Tuesday 29 December 2015

Top 10 Eats of 2015

Another year is coming to a close and 2015 has been filled with some seriously epic adventures! I've travelled extensively on three continents and my year has been filled with more fun times than I can count. It's without a doubt been a life changing kinda year, I always feel that I grow as a person as each year rolls on by (that's the point right?!) but I don't think I've had a year that's changed my perspectives and outlooks more than this one in a very long time. Despite missing having a home base on occasions I'm still loving my new travel lifestyle, the excitement of exploring a new place is still one of my driving forces and I can't wait to keep adventuring next year. Having eaten around 80% of my meals at restaurants, cafes, food trucks and street stalls this year my top 10 list was the hardest I've ever compiled... How do you choose just 10 things when you've eaten so much amazing food? Well, you make lists, delete lists, trawl through your iPhoto library, contemplate booking flights back to Vietnam to eat more, remember that there's a whole lot of amazing vegan food in the world and then you sit the fuck down, start writing, and take a break once you're almost done because item number one on the list is only 15 minutes away and you need to eat it RIGHT NOW!

The food featured on the list is in the order in which I devoured them rather than ranking them from 1 - 10, that would've been too hard and also silly because on any given day I could be craving something different. Who am I to say that waffles are better than pierogis?! Putting this list together is always challenging but I love using it as a way to reflect on my experiences and adventures - whilst searching for food photos I'm reminded of fantastic hikes, time spent with friends and the many beautiful beaches I've been lucky enough to explore among other things. As always only new-to-me dishes make the list so I've ruthlessly discounted things like the The Del Ray from The Vegan Nom as well as Veganista's amazing ice creams, check out my Top Ten Eats of 2014 list for more awesome Austin eats as well as favourites from Brighton, New York, Tokyo and Kyoto.
1 - Chocolate Banana Waffles from Veganerie in Bangkok

I visited Veganerie for the first time back in February and I've lost count of how many times I've returned.

Tuesday 22 December 2015

Travel Burnout // Travels in Cambodia

Nick and I were meant to go to Cambodia in March but after spending longer than planned in Thailand and Vietnam there was no time left - April had arrived by the time our Vietnamese adventures were coming to a close meaning that Cambodia was hotting up to levels that I had no inclination or intention of dealing with! Austin was calling us and it seemed like a much more sensible idea to visit Cambodia the next time Nick and I found ourselves in South East Asia.

That time rolled around quickly and we decided to visit Cambodia earlier this month after our vegetarian festival escapades in Bangkok and Phuket and our month volunteering at Lanta Animal Welfare. It's no secret that my time at LAW was vastly different than I'd expected it to be, it was challenging and stressful in ways that I hadn't even considered it would be and I left feeling more burnt out than I'd felt in years. The simplest things that I'd had no problems with earlier in the year suddenly seemed like insurmountable challenges - booking a train ticket, asking for something vegan in a restaurant, even the pressure of trying to haggle with a tuktuk driver when they were clearly trying to charge something outlandish felt like too much. I basically felt like I wanted to hide from the world which is quite challenging when you're travelling.

Tuesday 15 December 2015

Vegan in Croatia: Split and Dubrovnik + Vegan Travel Guide Giveaway

This is my final post from this summer's European road trip adventure and to make it that little bit more exciting I'm combining it with my spot on the blog tour for Caitlin from The Vegan Word's super helpful and informative book The Essential Vegan Travel Guide. I'd feel guilty for not writing about Split and Dubrovnik sooner (how has almost 4 months passed so fast?) but they're not going anywhere and life happens y'know. As I mentioned in my post about Pula and Plitviče, Croatia was one of the countries that inspired my European road trip and Split had been at the top of the Croatia list for some time. It just seemed like the kind of city that'd be right up my street and it was all I'd imagined and more. Nick and I stayed a little way out of town, as is often the way with camping, at a spot called Camping Stobreč. The reason we chose that particular campsite was because there's a bus stop right outside with regular busses taking campers and locals alike into the city centre. Perfect.

Vege was one of our first stops in town as we were starving when we first arrived and we knew that this place served solid fast food. It was a little challenging to find as the Happy Cow map I'd taken a screenshot of was a little off the mark leading me to the main road next to the market that Vege is located in. After a little wandering and asking for directions we ascertained that Vege was in the market, if we'd approached from the port or anywhere on that side of town we'd have easily spotted it because there's a huge sign pointing you in the right direction!

Wednesday 9 December 2015

2015 Vegan Holiday Gift Guide

The more time I spend out of the UK the more I am determined to break out of old habits and customs like buying unnecessary things that clutter up my life and don't add any value or support something (or someone) awesome. The holiday season is the hardest time to step away from consumerist tendencies as the shops are filled with shiny baubles, tempting treats and ultimately pointless but fun things like glittery reindeer and plush Christmas trees. 2014 was the year I decided that I would no longer buy things that didn't add value to my life - yes I am occasionally going to buy frivolous things (I'm not a robot!) but no more impulse purchasing and no more crap. This means that my main holiday gift recommendation is to only fill other peoples homes with things that will enrich their lives, amuse or delight them. Things that serve a purpose, things that you know they'll love and things that support businesses or artists who are doing something cool.

I love to support vegan artists especially, no matter the time of year, and My Zoetrope is always one of the artists at the top of my list. Her calendars always bring a smile to my face with each month's seasonally appropriate animal illustration. I bought Michelle's calendar every year without fail (well, right up until the moment that I decided to leave the country) because it's oh so cute.

You can pick up the totes adorable 2016 Calendar from My Zoetrope on Etsy for $25

Another of my very favourite vegan artists is Lisa aka Panda With Cookie. Her fun handmade eco-felt plush ornaments and cat toys have been fave's of mine for some time and because they're made from recycled plastic bottles rather than wool felt they're 100% vegan.

Wednesday 2 December 2015

My Month Volunteering at Lanta Animal Welfare

When Nick and I visited Koh Lanta back in January we fell in love with the island. We loved the food and the beaches but most of all we loved visiting Lanta Animal Welfare, Koh Lanta's cat and dog shelter. We came to walk dogs, we took a tour and we even ate at Time For Lime because we knew that the money from our meal there would go directly towards funding Lanta Animal Welfare. The information leaflets and tours sold us on Lanta Animal Welfare's great work not only with the animals living there but also on their work educating local communities about how to care for animals as well as their fantastic sounding spay and neuter programme. The long and short of it was that Lanta Animal Welfare gave us the warm and fuzzies, so much so that within a month of leaving we were desperate to come back and booked to return to live onsite and do a month's volunteering. That month just ended and the warm and fuzzy feeling I felt has been replaced with so many new feelings; despair, heartache, disappointment and confusion to name a few.

I knew going into the month that it was going to be challenging, that I was going to have to deal with seeing animals in tough situations and that yes, animals probably were going to die. As a sensitive human with a love for all of the world's animals, yes, even cockroaches, I knew that I'd spend a fair amount of time feeling sad but I thought that that would be evened out by how uplifted I'd feel being a part of such a cool project run by people who, like me, just want to help save animals. When a cat was killed by a dog within the first ten minutes of my first shift I felt sad but the outpouring of grief and obvious devastation of those around me made me feel like I was in a great place surrounded by great people and to a certain extent that was true

Wednesday 25 November 2015

Thailand's Vegetarian Festival - Convenience Stores

Convenience stores have long been one of my favourite stops on my travels. I especially love seeing what they sell in different locations around the world; where in the UK there'd be an egg mayo sandwich next to a meat filled pasty in Japan there'll be onigiri filled with all kinds of interesting combinations from the very non-vegan fish eggs to the often vegan friendly ume plum paste sharing space with sweet pockets of inari tofu. On my first ever trip to Thailand this January I was excited to discover things like ketchup crisps (the crisps themselves are shaped like french fries and they come with a little packet of ketchup for dipping), seaweed snacks, plum candy and Jay labelled ready meals stocking the shelves of the convenience stores and it was actually Rika's blog post about this very subject, convenience stores gone vegan, that first alerted me to the awesomeness of Thailand's vegetarian festival. After more digging I found plenty of other things to get excited about, street food, body modification, parades, but the lure of a convenience store stocked with vegan snacks never left my mind.

7/Eleven became a frequent stop during mine and Nick's journeys around Bangkok and Phuket during the vegetarian festival, the familiar blast of air con providing a much needed break from the sometimes stifling humidity outside. Power aisles and shelves were stacked with red and yellow goodies and flags were prominently displayed helping to guide vegan travellers and festival goers alike towards suitable snacks, meals and treats.

Tuesday 10 November 2015

Thailand's Vegetarian Festival: Phuket

As some of my interests lie firmly in the festivals, body modification and eating spectrums I feel like I have a unique take on the happenings at Phuket's vegetarian festival. Nick and I travelled down to Phuket from Bangkok via overnight train and bus which is a great way to get there if you have the time. It's cheaper than flying (unless you can plan a long way in advance), more fun, and you save money on accommodation by spending a night travelling. It's a win win!

I wrote more about the whats and whys of Thailand's vegetarian festival in last week's blog post about Bangkok's festivities but a quick explanation is that for ten days in the ninth lunar month on the Chinese calendar Thai Chinese people with Taoist beliefs abstain from animal products, sex, alcohol impure thoughts and more to honour the nine emperor gods. During this time cities across the country get seriously vegan friendly because the Jay way of eating almost exactly aligns with veganism.

Tuesday 3 November 2015

Thailand's Vegetarian Festival: Bangkok

It's quite a jump from my last destination focussed post on Bosnia and Herzegovina to Thailand in more ways than one. After our Balkan adventures Nick and I travelled back through the UK sampling the delights of Brighton's Goemon Ramen and Colchester's The Den at 23 along the way. We spruced up the van and handed it back to it's rightful owner and then flew halfway around the globe to hit up the vegetarian festival with a quick layover in Helsinki where I enjoyed some of the most delicious (and expensive) cakes ever. I believe that I first read about Thailand's Vegetarian Festival on one of my favourite vegan travel blogs, Vegan Miam, about two years ago and then I heard more about it from Kip, Jess and Jules and it soon snowballed and became a must visit event in my mind. Once I get fixated on something I tend to try to make it happen ASAP so I was a little sad that I missed out on 2014's festivities but that was right around the time that Nick and I were in the midst of Very Serious Decision Making followed by packing, planning and organising for our new adventures. Wow, I kinda can't believe that was over a year ago now!

If you haven't heard of the Vegetarian Festival heres the lowdown: It's a Chinese Taoist festival otherwise known as the Nine Emperor Gods festival that takes place during the first nine days of the ninth lunar month on the Chinese calendar. The epicentre is in Phuket where it was first brought to Thailand 170 years ago by a group of travelling opera singers but there are large celebrations that are worth checking out all over the place. During the nine day festivities followers welcome and then see off the nine emperor gods staying pure throughout by eating Jay food (this translates to vegan), wearing white and abstaining from sex, alcohol, impure thoughts and more. As I'm not coming at this from a religious or spiritual perspective the festival piqued my interest because of the amount of vegan street stalls and convenience foods that pop up. Add to that the sheer number of food courts and chain restaurants that participate as well as the ritual body modifications (former body piercer here!) some of the participants inflict upon themselves and each other in the name of respect for the gods and you have the makings of something truly fascinating. Interested yet?

Thursday 29 October 2015

Traversing Europe by Campervan: The Pros and Cons

I spent this summer travelling around Europe in what might just be the smallest camper van ever made, the 2009 Romahome Hylo, which is a converted Citroen Berlingo. Sadly these are no longer in production but the closest thing for comparison is a Romahome R20 Lo which is pretty damned similar. Like with any form of long term travel there are plusses and minuses to exploring the world in a van.

Nick and I left Brighton on a rainy summer morning in late June after spending a couple of nights renegade camping in the city’s streets and parks. Our initial planned route was taking us from Calais, up to Antwerp and over to Hanover before hitting Berlin but this is where one of my favourite plusses of both van life and long term travel come in to play. Freedom! We decided to take a detour! An online friend told me that the Amsterdam vegan festival was happening in a couple of days and I just had to go. Despite loving to make plans, it excites me to play around with schedules and ideas and to make sure that I’m in the right place at the right time, arriving in Tokyo the day the blossoms opened in 2014 was no happy accident, freedom is my most treasured right. I am keenly aware that it’s a privilege and not a right that everyone can avail themselves of; being able to travel at all, to be able to cross borders and to traverse the globe as I please is an amazing opportunity and I never forget that whilst I'm exploring the world. I loved that having our own transport meant that Nick and I had ultimate freedom to travel wherever, whenever. I enjoyed being able to make snap decisions about where our day / week / month would take us making it totally possible to change course to meet a new friend, to delve into a new vegan scene, or to detour away from a planned beach destination and scope out city life when the sun wasn't shining.

So, without further ado, here are ten pros and cons of van life which might help you decide whether or not you'd like to undertake this kind of adventure.

Monday 26 October 2015

Vegan Travels in Bosnia and Herzegovina

For some reason Bosnia and Herzegovina is one of those countries that has always felt far away. Geographically Sarajevo is about the same distance from London as Seattle is from San Diego but it’s always felt greater in my mind. I imagine that this is partly because I grew up seeing reports of the war in the 90's playing out on the news channels my parents tuned into and because, as a kid growing up in the west, you think that war is something that happens in far away places. 

As we were road tripping we crossed over into Bosnia and Herzegovina and onward to Mostar from just north of Dubrovnik in Croatia and found ourselves in the city less than an hour after crossing the border. Of course our main reason for checking out Mostar on our road trip was to take a look at Stari Most, a (pretty great) reconstruction of the 16th century ottoman bridge that stood there before it was bombed in the 1993 Croat-Bosniak war. 

After wandering around the old town and taking far too many pictures of both Stari Most and snoozing kitties we popped into the closest spot marked on Happy Cow, Sadrvan, for lunch. 

Thursday 22 October 2015

36 Hours in Helsinki

To balance mine and Nick's differing preferred travel styles we often have to come up with some compromises. If left to my own devices I'd fly everywhere in economy and Nick, for various reasons that do make total sense, would fly everywhere business class. As we'd prefer to sit together on flights we compromise and take shorter flights in economy and then either use points to upgrade or find fun and interesting ways to make business class happen without breaking the bank. This time around we found a good deal with Finnair but our flight had to originate outside the UK to make it work. We slept at Gatwick airport so that we'd be able to catch the 6am flight to Stockholm where the business class fun would begin. We actually hung out at Stockholm Arlanda for ages but lounge access made that fun rather than a tediouous and boring ordeal - there were beanbags! And wifi! And free crackers! After catching our flight to Helsinki we spent 36 hours there on layover and then caught our onward flight to Bangkok. It was a fun journey for sure and my favourite bonus (okay, getting a flat seat is pretty okay too) was getting to explore Helsinki. I've always wanted to visit Finland and Helsinki seemed like a great place to start. It must've made a great impression as I've been talking non-stop ever since about spending some time exploring the Nordic countries in the not too distant future.

We arrived pretty late and pretty hungry so after navigating our way through the shiny new still-in-construction airport and purchasing a couple of two day HSL rail passes, which are valid on all forms of local transport including trams and ferries, we were on our way.

I'd scoped out dining options in-between the central station and Eurohostel, our chosen place to crash during our Northern adventure, and come up pretty lacking as it was after 6pm when we arrived. It seems like in Finland, just like in the UK, a lot of places close super early. Our best bet seemed to be a stop at K Supermarket followed by a bed picnic and as soon as we stumbled upon the Wheaty section I knew we'd hit the jackpot. Soon we had bread, tofu, faux meat slices and cream cheese for dinner, juices, yoghurts and a snack bar for hostel breakfasting and, the most exciting thing ever, Delicatoboll's! 

Monday 19 October 2015

Goemon Ramen Bar, Brighton

Japanese is definitely my favourite cuisine, I love everything from maki to matcha and from soba noodles to silken tofu. No exceptions! Whilst I was visiting Tokyo last year I fell in love with ramen hence why I'm super excited to share the deets of this hot new restaurant with you. Goemon Ramen Bar recently opened on Brighton's Preston Street (often known locally as restaurant street) and, as the name suggests, they specialise in Japanese ramen. 

When they launched they had a vegetarian option on the menu which was veganisable and they've recently expanded that section of the menu to add some great 100% vegan options.

Tuesday 13 October 2015

The Albanian Riviera by Campervan

Exploring Albania by campervan was one of the highlights of this summer's European road trip adventure. I've always been fascinated by this Southern European country. As a kid I visited Corfu one summer with my family and as we sat at a restaurant for dinner one night we could see explosions across the water on the Albanian shore. I recall finding it bizarre that people could be fighting right there whilst we were just hanging out eating together as if everything was a-ok. As an adult my fascination with Albania never ceased and I knew that I needed to visit before the country changed too much. This very specific wanderlust was a driving force behind the road trip for sure.

We drove over the border from Igumenitsa in Northern Greece and it became immediately obvious that we were somewhere else. Gone were the whitewashed houses and manicured gardens of Greece and in their place were lived in but unfinished flat roofed homes (I read somewhere that if the building isn't finished the taxes you pay are different), pot holed roads, scrubby bush and litter. 

After driving for around 45 minutes from the Qafe Bote boarder crossing we reached the cable ferry we needed to take to get across the Vivari Channel to Vlorë County where one of Europe's newest archaeological sites, Butrint National Park, lies. The cable ferry was a fun adventure and it was surprisingly fast and easy given that we were initially a little scared to drive the van onto the rickety looking wooden planks to board and I definitely had a "That's it?" moment when we reached our destination.

Butrint was established in 2000 after being placed on a list of World Heritage in Danger by UNESCO because of looting and a lack of conservation. I loved exploring the site and I'm so pleased that it's now being looked after properly. There's an amazing Roman amphitheatre there alongside Bronze Age artefacts, Venetian castles and a Christian church - it's a real mish mash, but one of my favourite parts was this peaceful spot overlooking the channel. 

Our first overnight stop was near Ksamil where we stayed at the Ksamil Caravan Camping site which is just located in the garden of the owners home - if you pay attention you'll notice a pattern appearing as this post goes on! Albanians are renowned for their hospitality as we discovered at an Albanian run campsite in Macedonia where we were offered countless cups of coffee and shots of raki for breakfast; this offering of grapes was a little more welcome as neither of us drink caffeine and even the thought of hard liquor at breakfast makes me feel queasy. The grapes were grown in the campsite owners garden and they were suitably excited about them as they were from their first ever crop of grapes! I was so pleased to be able to share in their sweet excitement. One of the only downsides of travelling as a vegan is that you sometimes have to turn down people's hospitality and explaining why you won't try a campsite owner's baklava when there isn't much shared vocabulary is a less than fun challenge so when the gifts offered are accidentally vegan I'm always grateful and appreciative.

The beaches in this area aren't anything to write home about, the Albanian architects working on this part of the coast seem to have a fondness for using poured concrete to expand the areas in which they can squeeze an extra sun lounger or ten, but it was interesting to get a look into where local people and tourists from other parts of The Balkans and Russia holiday.

As we continued North we reached a spot that's up there with my favourite stretches of beach in all of Europe. This section of the Albanian Riviera is slowly changing but currently it's almost untouched by large developers and you'll find baby cows and wild pigs just hanging out by the side of the tracks leading down to the beaches.

Borsch beach was one of my favourite discoveries. I love that you can still just stop by the section of beach you want to sit on, park up, and hop into the ocean. Some people even took this a step further and just drove right on down to the shore!

Our campsite of choice for the next couple of nights was Camping Kranea by Livadhi beach. We set up camp on a fantastic pitch in the back corner of the site underneath a mature olive tree. Both the space and the beach opposite were fantastic places to while away a couple of days reading, listening to music and catching up on podcasts in the sun.

Whilst we relaxed we also made use of the self catering facilities in the van but when it was too hot to cook we snacked on some of Albania's best vegan eats. Lemon wafers, garlic Bake Rolls and Lay's Tzatziki flavoured crisps. Delicious.

Our drive north from Livadhi Beach towards the Dukat Valley and our pre-selected base for the night, Kamping pa Emer, was probably the most challenging of the trip. We had to drive up and over the Ceraunian Mountains crossing the infamous Llogara pass at 3,422 feet before descending though Llogora national park. The roads in this part of Albania (on the south side of the mountain at least) are incredibly well maintained and, I would guess, newly tarmaced, which was unexpected but pleasing for sure.

The picture above doesn't really do the intense nature of the road justice but as you can see Albanian's aren't big fans of a switchback, they favour long climbs that zig zag up and across the mountain. I was amazed at the sheer amount of cyclists attempting the hard slog to the top, a few of them did not look like they were having a whole lot of fun. Thankfully, unlike the few drivers we saw struggling along, our camper van, the 2009 Romahome Hylo which has since been replaced in the line with the Romahome R20 Lo, is small and fast and happily handled the corners and hills. It didn't really appreciate the bridge we discovered right at the end of our journey though but I doubt that most vehicles would. It was built at one of the more peculiar angles I've ever seen and it's definitely challenging not to scrape the underside of your bonnet coming off of the bridge!

Thankfully it's entirely worth doing a little damage to your vehicle as when we arrived at the campsite we were greeted by this view. Albania is seriously stunning, what an amazing place to wake up.

When I wasn't just staring at the view from the van I was walking on the beach, it wasn't warm enough for swimming the day we were there due to the wind but the sky was beautifully clear. I enjoyed spotting this beach bar set up - it reminded me of Thailand's island beaches and their ramshackle bars - and checking out the bunkers, a relic of Hoxha's time controlling the country with something of an iron fist, lying abandoned. You can find these all over the country on hillsides and beaches, some are intact, some, not so much.

After driving from our campsite at Kavaja past the somewhat ugly port town of Durrës we deviated from our coastal route to dip into Tirana for a day of sightseeing and to eat something we didn't have to cook ourselves at one of Albania's few vegan friendly Happy Cow listings, Bohemian Burgers

We stayed at Camping Tirana which was one of our favourite camping spots of the whole trip. Located around 14km outside the city centre down around a kilometre of rocky dirt track we found two of the kindest hosts and one of the quirkiest campsites we'd stumbled upon. Located, of course, in the back garden of the owner's home we were surrounded chickens and electricity pylons and had a view down to a lake. To get into Tirana we took the local bus to City Park which was an adventure in itself, when one woman missed the bus she called the driver who reversed back down the road to collect her, and then from there we took the free shuttle bus into the city centre. On the way home we'd have been too late for the local bus so after some texting we picked up the keys and one of the owners cars and drove that back from City Park. I'm still unsure how the car got to be there as the person handing us the keys had their own vehicle and the person whose car it was was at the campsite when we arrived. It's a mystery! The whole adventure was a strange and memorable in the best kind of way. Logistics aside I enjoyed Tirana itself, it's a super walkable city and I enjoyed exploring the Blloku district. It has a very young vibe with lots of under 25's hanging out enjoying coffee in street side cafe's and I could definitely have spent more time there if the road hadn't been calling our name.

Driving in Albania is definitely interesting, bikes cycle the wrong way down newly built dual carriageway and people cross over wherever they want leaving bridges unused in favour of makeshift wooden ladders or piles of bricks placed at their preferred route. Mercedes Benz, both old and new, share space on bumpy backroads with horse and carts which, in the rain, are ridden by men balanced on the front of the cart sheltered underneath black umbrellas giving their appearance a touch of the macabre. Markets spring up on roundabouts selling the most amazing fruit and veg - I ate the best tomatoes of my life here - at the cheapest prices.

On our last day Nick and I were desperately trying to spend £4 worth of Albanian Lek and four stops and four bags of shopping including bread, snacks, fruit and vegetables later we were only halfway there. Albania, specifically the Albanian Riviera, is a truly fascinating place to explore and I would highly recommend road tripping there. It's a wonderful way to see the country and I definitely see myself finding the time to go back and explore more of this beautiful country in the future.

Tuesday 6 October 2015

The Den at 23

The saddest part of any road trip is when it has to come to an end but luckily I’d planned some exciting things for the final leg of the journey to drop the van off in Ipswich including a few days in Brighton, hanging with my Sister in Law and her family and a tattoo appointment in Peterborough with one of my favourite artists Harriet Heath. I was really excited when I realised that Jen from blog turned bakery PS It’s Vegan’s cafe The Den at 23 wasn’t even a ridiculous detour on the drive from London to Ipswich meaning that I could finally try some of her delicious eats. 

The Den is located right in the centre of Colchester and it’s the only cafe on Crouch street which means that they’re really well positioned for both visiting vegans and hungry locals for whom The Den might be their first introduction to vegan food. 

Nick started with a hot chocolate which I was so jealous of that I had to order one for myself. I’m usually a soya milk girl but Jen’s partner Robert, the man in charge of the coffee machine, recommended coconut milk and I was so glad I listened to him. This was without a doubt the best hot chocolate I’ve ever had. It was smooth, creamy and intensely chocolatey without any lingering coconut flavour and to kick it up another notch it was also topped with the wonderfully indulgent and fun combo of whipped cream and marshmallows. 

Now I’ve taken my own mallows along to coffee shops to pop in my hot choc before but I’ve never been anywhere that just had them on the menu and I’d never had whipped cream on a hot chocolate before. I know! I didn’t get into whipped cream until after I went vegan (yay for Schlagfix!) so I’d always missed out on this fun treat and hoo boy is it good. If I lived near The Den I would order this all the time!

The cafe’s menu is a mix of breakfasts, burgers, sandwiches, salads and sweet treats which include waffles, a desert island burger and grilled cheese and ham sandwiches. Of course I ordered a grilled cheese, there were a few options but I eventually settled on cheese, ham and tomato after seeing that they were using Tofurky ham. The cheese is VioLife and it melts perfectly. 

Breakfast is served until they run out and thankfully they had just enough of their delicious tofu omelettes left to whip Nick up a breakfast bagel with an omelette, Linda McCartney sausages and plenty of ketchup.

Nick couldn’t resist a slice of their Apple Crumble Cheesecake which I was even tempted to try a forkful off despite my hatred for cheesecake. It was definitely the best cheesecake I’ve tried but as a cheesecake hater you can’t trust my opinion! Nick said it was epic which is a pretty excellent compliment.

I didn’t have enough space left for one of the cafe’s famous waffles but because Jen is the sweetest she gave me one to take away which I topped with bee free honee for dinner that evening. It was so delicious, I’ve never managed to make a waffle that good no matter how fancy the waffle maker, and if you’re visiting The Den I’d highly recommend ordering the toasted waffle with maple syrup and non dairy ice cream because how good does that sound?!

The Den also sell a small but well selected range of take away snacks including Vego bars, Ten Acre Crisps (the cheese and onion flavour is off the hook!), Spacebars and Freedom Mallows. 

Also in stock, as of last week, is my zine European Vegan which I’m super excited about! Sadly I’m having to put my Big Cartel stores on hiatus because the logistics of sending individual zines out to people from Thailand / Cambodia / South Korea / wherever else I end up in the next 10 months are just too complicated. It’s no biggie though you can now pick up copies of the zine from Infinity Foods, Herbivore, Rabbit Food Grocery, Dr Pogo, Active Distro, The Cowley Club, Black Cat Cafe and, of course, The Den.

Tuesday 29 September 2015

Five Reasons to Visit Venice Now

Nick and I recently celebrated our 11 year getting-together-aversary which is not so much an anniversary of a first date but of the moment we realised that we just couldn’t deny how we felt about each other any longer. A month or so of absolute carnage ensued but it was oh so worth it looking back because we’re still very much together and happier than ever. Travelling together full time is one of the best decisions we’ve ever made and spending three months in what might just be the world’s smallest van has done nothing to change that! When we realised that our anniversary was fast approaching we decided to go somewhere neither of us had ever been, somewhere a little different to anywhere else we’d visited on the road trip so far and somewhere tote's romantic - Venice!

I’d heard many great things about Venice in the past but nothing that had pushed me to book a plane ticket. I visited both Rome and Pompeii when I was a teenager and adored both places so I’m not sure what’s been keeping Italy and I apart for so long other than the fact that there were so many countries that I’d never even set foot in within spitting distance of Italian shores and I always found myself drawn elsewhere, until now anyway.

The city took my breath away as soon as I took my first steps into it’s stunning maze of streets, it’s ridicuously beautiful and within seconds I was envisioning myself living there, spending the majority of my time writing sonnets and staring out of my window at one of the most stunning places I’ve ever laid eyes on (and that’s coming from someone who was in Dubrovnik only a week earlier.) I suspect that moving to Venice would not make me start writing sonnets in real life, perhaps staring out of the window eating gelato would be more realistic?!

Anyway, as you can tell, I'm a big fan of Venice and I think that you should visit sooner rather than later. So, without further ado, here are the top five things I think you absolutely have to do in Venice.

• Eat Pizza

As a vegan you sometimes have to skip whatever speciality food a country is famous for but that is definitely not the case in Italy. Pizza is queen and I for one was happy to partake every chance I got. I basically just ate pizza. It was awesome. You have two great options in Venice, marinara or Pizzeria L’Angelo. Marinara is ubiquitous (and cheap) as long as you’re away from the tourist hotspots around Piazza San Marco and the Rialto bridge. This is pizza at it’s simplest, dough, marinara sauce and garlic. It’s both delicious and traditional, I’m a fan. Pizzeria L’Angelo is the place to go when you want to experience cheesy Italian pizza vegan style. They have Italian made MozzaRisella as their cheese of choice and a what a fantastic choice it is too. It melts beautifully, almost too well if you’re impatient like me and can’t wait the two to three minutes it needs to cool down from molten lava to something more enjoyable. They also have two kinds of seitan if you’re in need of a protein hit or something more hearty. I went simple with a classic order of a Margherita with spinach on a couple of occasions, simple and delicious, but on my final visit I pushed out the boat and ordered the Patate vegan style. Yeah, that’s a pizza covered in chunky chips and melted cheese. Yeah, it was as amazing as it looks. I would definitely stick with the regular size in this case but otherwise plump for the family size if you have a dining companion - I swear you won’t regret it.

• Ride the Number 1 Bus

Now I don’t know about you but when I imagined visiting Venice I envisaged gliding down canals via Gondola staring into my lovers eyes… well, I did until I got researching and realised that a gondola ride costs €80 for 30 minutes. €80! If you were with a group of 6 (the max number of people allowed in a gondola) I’d say go for it. It looks super fun and you get to chat to your gondaleer about archetecture and life on the canals but if there are only two of you, your money comes from the same pool and you’re on a budget I’d recommend skipping it and taking the bus. The bus? That doesn’t sound the same at all! Well, in Venice, the busses are boats! The whole city centre is car free so Venetians take vaporetto busses when they aren’t feeling up for walking through busy city streets and the number 1 is totally the best line to ride to get a feel of the city. It costs €7.50 for a single trip on the bus and you definitely get the most bang for your buck on this line, running from Pizzale Roma all the way down to Lido but if you make it to Arsenale you’ll be whizzing down the grand canal past Piazza San Marco, The Rialto Bridge and about a thousand other stunning buildings. My second number 1 bus related tip is to make sure you hop on at Pizzale Roma before the majority of tourists board outside the central station stop just around the corner. Oh and grab a seat outside on the port side, that way you’ll get the most spectacular views of Piazza San Marco without 20 cameras in between you and it!

• Escape the Crowds

Venice is busy. We were there towards the end of September and whilst the weekend was more crowded the weekdays were hardly what you could call quiet. More than a handful of huge cruise ships arrive at the port every day meaning that there will be large groups of people jostling for the best positions in front of attractions almost all the time. I have two crowd busting tips. Arrive at night and check out Venice’s well lit streets and buildings in the dark first. The Piazza San Marco especially was much more pleasant at night and I really enjoyed getting my first glimpse of the city when there was space to breathe. Secondly, get out of the main tourist areas. Venice is an incredibly walkable city especially if you have either a good sense of direction or a map app to guide you to where you need to be once you're done getting lost. I would highly recommend getting away from the crowds by wandering around the city’s residential neighbourhoods. The streets are beautiful and in a lot of cases they’ll be yours and yours alone. Perfect. 

• Get Your Gelato On

My second foodie tip is to find and eat all of the sorbet and gelato the city has to offer. Vegan options are varied, plentiful and in almost every neighbourhood, it would actually be challenging not to stumble upon one of these options if you’re doing Venice right. My favourite spots in order because I’m ruthless and able to pick favourites are Gelatoteca Suso, Stickhouse, Alaska Gelateria (pictured above) and Vizio Virtu Cioccolateria. The veganised white with black cherry ice cream pictured below) from top ranked spot Gelatoteca Suso might just be the fluffiest most amazing ice cream I've ever eaten, vegan or not, and the mint sorbet fem Alaska Gelateria blew me away. Even the supermarkets have a range of vegan ice cream options which will be perfect for midnight snacks at your Air B&B.

Pear Popsicle with Chocolate and Hazelnuts from Stickhouse & the Vegano from Gelatoteca Suso.

• La Biennale di Venezia / Venice Biennale

If you’re into super contemporary modern art then The bi-annual Venice Biennale is for you. Taking place this year from 09.05.15 - 22.11.15 there’s still plenty of time for you to take a last minute trip. With work on display from 89 participating countries you get a varied sense of present day modern art. Rather than one overarching theme as I believe is usual for the Biennale this year's themes intersect under the banner All The World’s Futures which was perfect for me as I like my art to be as political, challenging and thought provoking as possible. My favourite works included Paperwork and The Will of Capital - An Account of Flora as Witness by Taryn Simon which cleverly tied together photographs of flower arrangements and pressed flowers with (dubious at best, criminal at worst) international treaties, contracts and agreements. I was also blown away by some stunning neons as well as three or four of the movie pieces I had time to engage with (I still need to find the movies made as part of the China Village Documentary Project online) and Barthélémy Togou's woodcut bust stamp sculptures, part of which is pictured above. I wish I'd had longer to explore The Biennale, a week would be ideal but a long weekend would be totally doable just make sure you go Thurs - Sun as the majority of exhibits are closed on a Monday. 

Make it cheaper: Venice is notoriously expensive and accommodation is no exception. There are definitely a couple of ways you can make your stay more affordable though, Air B&B or camping. Nick and I stayed just out of town at Camping Rialto which, as well as having space for camper vans and tents, also hosts guests in pop up tents or wood cabins with teepee style tents being available for larger groups. It wasn’t perfect by any means (what’s with campsites thinking it’s okay not to provide toilet paper or soap in the bathrooms? Stop being gross!) but it was affordable and the number 19 bus runs from just outside the gates to the central bus stop (as close as you can get to the city in any vehicle) four times an hour (twice on Sundays and holidays) and only costs €1.50 for a single ticket or €3 for a return. Given that boat busses within the city centre run at a hefty €7.50 for a one way ticket this is a definite bargain. Air B&B is another great way to save a few Euro’s on your stay especially if you’d like to be a little closer to the action. if you’ve never Air B&B’d before you can get $25 off of your first stay by clicking on this link

Somehow Venice manages not to feel stifling like so many heavily touristed cities do (I’m looking at you Prague!), the lack of cars and abundance of water create a sense of peace, calm and open space that I adored. It’s also incredibly easy to be vegan here especially if you’re an avid pizza and gelato fan, but supermarkets have you covered too with well labelled ranges of vegan meat products, soya yoghurts and chocolate, Gianduiotti anyone?! 

Rest assured I’ll be back Venice, I have my eye on you!

Wednesday 23 September 2015

Adventures in (and around) Prishtina, Kosovo

Kosovo had been high on my must-visit list for a while, it was certainly one of the places that made me decide that a Balkan road trip was the best way to spend this summer, and I’m so happy I was finally be able to visit. Our time in Kosovo was short but sweet; driving a borrowed van in a country where you can only get 3rd party insurance and where everyone drives like a maniac is something that's best kept to a minimum and curiously there are also zero campsites in Kosovo meaning that we had to super splurge on a hotel with underground parking for our poor uninsured van leaving us with just under 48 hours to explore. We made the most of the time by exploring Prishtina, visiting a bear sanctuary and squeezing in a visit to Prizren, somewhere multiple people both outside and within the country told us we absolutely must visit. 

Prishtina is a really fun city to explore on foot as walking is one of the main things local people do here. Unemployment in Kosovo is high, 60.2% for 16-24 year olds [ref], so going out isn't really an option for Prishtina's young population. An evening stroll on pedestrianised Nëna Terezë Street, where the pavement is lined with cafes interspersed with a very occasional big brand store or bank, is the thing to do and you’ll see families, couples and groups of teenagers enjoying this national pastime, getting some fresh air and mingling with friends. This definitely pushes people watching to the top of the list of things to do here of an evening but also up there is grabbing dinner at popular local spot Baba Ghanoush. Baba Ghanoush also happens to be the only vegetarian eatery in the city but thankfully the food is delicious so you could happily eat here more than once mixing together different small plates from around the menu. After a warm welcome from the owner Nick and I went big after a lunch of bananas, granola bars and Manner wafers from the local supermarket, and ordered a double order of falafel alongside hummus, potatoes, fried mushrooms, tabbouleh and bread.

This was definitely one of the most enjoyable meals we'd eaten in a while, the tabbouleh was heavy on the herbs and flavourful fresh tomatoes making it one of the best I've ever eaten and the smooth and creamy falafel is the stuff my dreams are made of. I've eaten slightly better falafel in my time but this was still at the damned good end of the spectrum and the portion size of both the bread basket and the thinly cut deep fried potatoes were spot on. I only wish we'd been able to go back!

Prishtina is a city of contrasts, one evening after an hour or so of strolling back and forth Nick and I headed from Nëna Terezë Street, past the Skenderbeg monument and the new government building and into the old quarter where we immediately felt like we’d stepped into a different city. A lack of generators in this area meant that a power cut had left this part of town with an almost post apocalyptic feel as people stumbled around on uneven and unlit pavements passing shops only aglow with the light of a mobile phone screen whilst fire engine sirens pierced the air highlighting their struggle to get through the gridlocked streets.  It almost felt as if Prishtina is made up of two parts. During the day the area felt much more welcoming but it was still unmistakably different, we got lost wandering along residential streets before stumbling into the bustling bazaar that reminded me more of a Thai or Vietnamese market place rather than anywhere I’ve ever seen in Europe. Car parts jostled for space next to kitchenwares, vegetables and fresh cheese which, at first glance, I hoped was tofu before remembering where I was. 

Oh yeah and then there's the Bill clinton monument. Strange but better I guess than the road named after Bush that we stumbled upon in another city!

You also must check out the super interesting university library which stands proudly atop a small hill on the way into the city.

Just outside the city down a dirt track alongside a lake just off of the main highway is the Prishtina Bear Sanctuary run by Four Paws, a charity who, as the name suggests, pour all of their energies into caring for animals including, but not limited to, bears. 

Until November 2010 it was legal to keep a bear in Kosovo, not as a pet so much as for entertainment and to draw customers into your restaurant or cafe. Brown bears, often stolen from the forests of Albania or Kosovo, lived in terrible conditions in chains or shackles in cages outside such establishments but the fact that this is now outdated and illegal is just one example of how Kosovo is changing. The rescued bears are now living out the rest of their lives happily and in peace under the care of Four Paws. I was so pleased to be able to visit and take a peek at these magnificent animals living their lives in more natural conditions.

A long hot walk up the hill to the furthest side of the 15 hectare park was rewarded with a wonderful moment where Nick and I were able to watch three bears playing in a pool before coming over close to us to munch on some cabbage that had been left for them earlier in the day. It was a beautiful moment.

One bear gets through just over 15kg of food a day costing the sanctuary €3539 a year per bear. They're currently caring for 13 bears, you do the math! If you currently have any spare cash and would like to help pay for the cost of bear snacks - then please consider donating here.

After our time in Prishtina and at the bear sanctuary we had a little time to spare and despite it being in totally the wrong direction we decided to take a quick trip to Prizren to see another side of Kosovan life away from the capital. Prizren is pretty touristy, with most coming from Albania, and it was another very walkable town. Sadly we didn’t have time to climb up to the walls of the fortress but they were definitely impressive from a distance and I really enjoyed getting a peek into smaller city life after the hustle and bustle of Prishtina. 

Whilst Kosovo isn't going to be appearing on any vegan top ten lists anytime soon it's totally possible to eat there and I loved every moment of the short amount of time I was able to spend there. I'd recommend a visit to anyone with a sense of adventure looking to explore one of the world's newest and most fascinating countries.