Traveling While Vegan: Poiana Brașov, Romania

In a couple of months it will be my 3 year veganniversary and I have to admit that the overall transition was not as hard as I thought it would be. Quitting smoking was harder to do and the body of evidence available at the time was far greater about its harms but for me it was fourth time’s the charm before I kicked that nasty habit for good. Finding out that eggs are as bad as cigarettes for your heart made it easy to give up my morning sunny side up on an everything bagel breakfast. There was no way I’d let eggs get me when I’d already kicked cigarettes.

Anyway now you have context to know that becoming vegan was a lot easier than finding actual vegan meals to eat while traveling. Obviously that depends on where you go and what the vegan population/culture is like there. In Germany you’ll find some pretty good options but not all over. In Romania, I’ve eaten at vegan restaurants in Bucharest and Cluj, otherwise it’s a la cart city.

Which brings me to a recent ski trip to celebrate the release of my book, How Could I Forgetto Poiana Brasov.

poiana brasov ski vegan

This is the view from the small slice of baby mountain where my husband refreshed my ski recollection. We skiied once before in Austria a few years ago but I was about 80 lbs heavier and basically needed to re-learn this sport. This time my legs were smaller which meant I could wear the ski boots all day without excruciating pain. Anyway this was day one. Check in. Change. Rent gear. Ski until the mountain shut down.

Shower. Stretch. Food.

We chose this place, Vanatorul, because they had a vegetable soup (harder to find in these parts than you might think) and a totally vegan mushroom stew. It was a no-brainer.

Fresh sweet potato chips for an appetizer! BUT only because there was no vegetable soup without meat, because apparently that’s something you have to clarify.

Despite burning a million calories on the mountain, we decided to split everything we ordered, including this platter of grilled vegetables. Light green zucchini, eggplant, red bell peppers and a couple mushrooms filled out the platter. It was only about 200 grams of food.

The mushroom “stew” with polenta was completely vegan and pretty good. It wasn’t hot and the mushrooms were soggy but the mamaliga (polenta) made it a hearty choice for the cold town of Poiana Brasov, especially since we walked here from the hotel!

The food wasn’t great but it was good and it was hot and it was vegan, as promised. I gave it a solid B on the food but the Palinca was too strong without enough flavor.

But there was some pretty great art!

Romania has some pretty great traditional/ethnic art like this all over the country. There’s so much detail that I wish my photography skills were better.

Just in case you’re walking and you go too far.

On day two we hit the mountain again, this time the logical part of my brain was in control and I told myself I wasn’t going nearly as fast as it felt. It also helped that The Hubs made me keep my eyes open and focused on him instead of the snow beneath my feet. I managed to get down more than half the bunny slope without falling. Or freaking out. Mostly.

Then I wanted my husband to enjoy the trip too so I sent him up on the gondola to do the entire mountain a time or two while I practiced, which I did. And that means I fell. A lot. Okay just four times but it felt like a lot more. Thank goodness for Zumba, a strong core and affordable ski rental equipment because I only bruised my ego. And my left calf.

Side noteAsk if helmets and other equipment is made with leather or synthetic fibers if you’re all about that #crueltyfreeliving

After a full day of skiing I burned a zillion calories and I was ready to eat.

Big mistake.

We walked and walked and walked, finding nothing but side dishes. So we chose a place that offered vegetable soup, for real this time, and we hoped for the best.

The soup was tasty. Well seasoned with a good amount of hot broth. A little oily but the highlight of the meal.

It warmed me right up and primed me for the focaccia bread which was pretty good.

The grilled vegetables were not good. They were both under and overcooked, and the boiled potatoes were sufficient with salt & pepper from the table.

It was not a fun food experience but we found a giant arcade building with ping pong, life size chess, pool, bowling, darts, a climbing wall and mini golf. I know, after a long day of skiing we must be crazy right?

We are.

It was a fun experience though. A few games of ping pong and then my husband wiped the floor with me at pool and we made our way back to the hotel.

The next morning it was very foggy and rainy and my anxiety would not let me venture up on a mountain with skis on my unsure feet.

The view from our room in Pensiunea Alex

The trip was fun and I conquered (mostly) my fear of slamming into a tree on skis. I came home relaxed, refreshed and ready to dig back in for a bit. Plus…my book is LIVE!!!

A Day at Seven Ladders Canyon

I talk a lot on this blog about vegan cooking because it has been such an important part of my weight loss and fitness journey, but it isn’t just food. It is also about the things that I have been able to do since the weight has come off and my physical fitness has improved. One of those things is hiking, something I never thought I would do, never mind enjoy doing.

We recently hiked Babele in Romania and because the telecabina was not in service that day, what was supposed to be a relatively short, 5 kilometer hike ended up being just over 13 kilometers. That was a very long day which I promise to tell you all about, but now we’re talking about 7 Ladders Canyon.

Seven Ladders Canyon, or Canionul Sapte Scari (in Romanian) is located in the beautiful county of Brasov, which I’m kind of in love with because it is so scenic and serene, plus the endless sea of green is just about the most soothing view I can imagine. Back to Seven Ladders, which should actually be called “A lot of hiking before you get to the seven staircases that will take you up and up and up through the waterfalls”.

A quick view of what you see as you start the journey towards the “ladders”. The day was gorgeous, about 30 degrees Celsius and pretty much cloudless, and best of all? The humidity was at a bare minimum this day.

The hike itself was fairly easy, even for me, but still we ended up doing about 14 or so kilometers, which is quite a feat for me.

We packed for a day hike because we were planning to do a different hike but the line for the telecabina was outrageously long and would have eaten up all the hiking hours of the day. So, we hopped back in the car and drove to this place with our hiking boots, hiking poles (which apparently are a thing) and lots of ice cold water because that’s how I like it.

Here is a photo of me with the brand new hiking poles/sticks, which it turns out can be SUPER helpful on the more treacherous parts of the hiking trail. For the most part it was fairly easy as long as you were very, very careful, but some parts required my deep anti-anxiety breathing so that I wouldn’t freak out. Luckily my hubs is an excellent hiking partner.

And as you can see, even nature was on my side, giving me a nice rainbow as if to say, “Good job, here’s your reward.”

Of course we brought snacks.

Yummy vegan snacks, that we didn’t really stop to eat, aside for splitting a banana and half of 2 energy bars. We had a hemp one and a sour cherry & mulberry and both were delicious, satisfying and they didn’t weight us down!

 

We also packed this yummy vegan jerky which we ended up eating on the car ride home since we got stuck in traffic for 90 minutes!

The ladders were worth the hassle!

I like these trips because they serve as an excellent reminder why I do what I do, and why I am so committed to being healthy and fit. This is something I would have very likely missed out on completely if I hadn’t changed my lifestyle and started taking care of myself. It isn’t about waiting until you’re where you want to be to start living, it’s living on the road to where you want to be.

And the best part of all? I had to buy a new breathable shirt and for the first time in at least 20 years, it was a Large. No extra, no double letters or double digits. #goals #happyvegan #healthyvegan

Eating Vegan in Bucharest

My husband has often joked over the years that the national vegetable of Romania is pork, a fun little quip backed up by his parents, family friends and the spread on the table for any given occasion. There is a maximum of mean–specifically pork–and cheese on the table, plus bread.

What is sadly lacking is vegetables and good vegetables are even harder to find because, who needs flavor when there’s so much in the meant, right?

Wrong.

But it’s made finding places to eat pretty much impossible. So when we visited friends in Bucharest recently, I felt a bit more hopeful since the population is larger and big cities tend to be more ahead of the curve when it comes to making changes for their clientele. Of course we did some research before we made the hour long drive to the city and found Aubergine, a restaurant that was not vegan but did offer a few vegan dishes.

This was as close to a win as we were gonna get and since it was cold and snowy and rainy, I was ready for a damn good meal at Aubergine.

The inside of this place was great, in the historical Old Town part of the city, which meant the layout was super old school with a small first floor bistro area and bar. If you want to see the real dining room, or rooms, then you’ll need to head up a gorgeous winding staircase to take you to the second floor where the walls are decked out in re-purposed doors and serving trays that serve as art. The atmosphere was chill and the waitstaff was nice. And if you’re an English speaking tourist you’ll be happy to find the servers all spoke at least a minimal amount of English and the menus are in Romanian and English.

So far, I was feeling hopeful so I ordered an unfiltered Zaganu and waited for something to take the chill off my bones.

The vegan appetizer platter had eggplant caviar, which my hubs LOVED because he loves eggplant and I do not. The hummus was delicious, flavorful and so buttery soft I moaned as I bit into it The falafel was crisp on the outside and soft and full of flavor inside, which just the right amount of cumin. The mushroom caviar was delicious but I prefer my mushrooms warm. As delicious as the whole appetizer was, the picked veggies at the bottom of the platter were the most memorable. I can’t pinpoint exactly what was in it, but I only left one piece of each for the hubs.

Our friends had a platter of falafel three ways which was pretty good, once you scraped off all the dairy-based creams smothering them.

The dish was vegetarian but I still say our vegan falafel was better!

Did I mention the bread? The delicious turmeric and whole grain bread that were the perfect vessel for the tasty appetizers!

The hubs ordered a mushroom quinoa sote which came out on this beautiful plate. The dish was hearty and satisfying but afterwards he didn’t feel sluggish or heavy. And I have to say that the mushrooms were cooked to perfection and the addition of the sprouts gave it an extra earthy flavor that made the dish memorable.

 

I ordered the vegan shwarma with a side of couscous. This was a good meal with a base of hummus, fresh greens, several types of mushrooms, onion and bell peppers. Honestly it didn’t need the couscous because it was satisfying on its own, but eating too much is still something I struggle with on occasion and finding a restaurant with actual vegan food and NOT side dishes is one such occasion.

Everyone was too stuffed to enjoy dessert and honestly I’m not a big sweets eater so it was no problem for me. After three coffees (for them) and a shot of Jameson (for me) we were ready to battle a freezing cold Bucharest!

Traveling While Vegan: Creativity & Compromise A Must

One of the things you might have guessed about me is that traveling is at the top of my favorite things to do list. Honestly, I’m not that picky. Okay, I do have an extensive list of places I would like see and the things I really want to do when I get there but what I mean is that I just like to go to new places. Whether it was going from Charleston to Carbondale when I was in college, a quick day trip to Salem when we lived in Massachusetts or a weekend in San Diego when we lived in California…I want to go to there.

We haven’t been too many places in the 18 months since making the change to a plant based diet but aside from a few memorable places in Germany, eating out has been kind of a drag. If you’re lucky then maybe you’ll find a vegan option or two, but what if you’re in the heart of carnivore country and the notion of a animal free meal is as likely as riding a unicorn to get there?

You get creative. You cobble together something resembling a meal with the side dishes. Some form of potatoes–usually fries because everything else has at least butter if not also cream or milk–and broccoli is my go to option but only if they don’t have a problem steaming new broccoli without butter for me. Sometimes you get something amazing like grilled asparagus or roasted Brussels sprouts but usually it’s nothing as glamorous as all that. So…you compromise. Usually I end up ordering a salad, the bigger the better, with French fries and then booze. I can get a little greedy and get a shot and a beer or maybe, if I’m feeling good, a couple cocktails.

But when I get home I have to fix something with some sustenance to it.

Which brings me to the most recent trip: Busteni

Busteni is a small mountain town in Prahova County, Romania with some amazing scenery and a gondola from which you can see it all. This place was gorgeous even though it was just a tad too late to get the full beauty of the autumn colors. And even though it was too windy to ride this particular gondola and even though I moaned and groaned about it, a ride on another gondola much later in the day proved the wisdom of their decision.

I took this shot on the sidewalk outside the train station!

Since this was an up and out the door early kind of day, we decided to grab a quick bite to eat before making the long-ish hike to the telecable building. As we passed eatery upon eatery where there was not one dish without either meat or cheese, though most had both meat and cheese, I saw French fries in my culinary future. And you know what was most annoying? That there was so much variety from traditional Romanian restaurants to Italian, Irish, Hungarian and even a Bulgarian place. But we finally found a place with a lentil soup that sounded like the perfect way to start a day of walking and climbing, but they didn’t have it. After it became clear that we didn’t have many options our waitress said the magic words, “We have a vegetable ciorba.” The hubs and I looked at each other, smiled and asked for two big bowls. Along with some crusty bread and two tall beers.

And then we were off.

 

The gondola took us up first to 1500 meters which was pretty cool and at about the halfway mark is when I began to understand why the other gondola, the one that went up about another 1,000 meters, was closed. There was wind, more than enough for this Chicago girl, but it was enough to ride safely up the mountain so I don’t want to imagine how windy the other was.

2k meters high!

We did a lot of walking and a lot of climbing and the old me would be so disgusted with the new me because, yeah, I had a good time. When the day started my light makeup looked good and my afro was mostly shaped and shiny. But that took no time at all to undo and I didn’t even care. I climb even higher than the 2,000 meters and I made it, something I couldn’t possibly have done 22 kilograms ago! Sure, I huffed and puffed a little but my lungs didn’t burn and none of my muscles gave out.

Yay, me!

We walked around the town and stopped at a few artisan tents to see what was on sale and I found a beautiful ring made of lapis lazuli that I haven’t stopped wearing since.

Then it was time to eat and we did the dance that all traveling vegans know all too well. We stopped at about six different places to look at menus and see if any eateries had vegan meals and if not, who had the best a la carte options to put a meal together. Ultimately we settled on an Indian style restaurant that was the only lowlight of the day.

The mushroom masala was…okay. It was seasoned nicely but nothing to write home about. Unfortunately.

We ordered pizza because nothing else was vegan. Nothing. Else. Here’s a little tip for you: If a place can’t make small adjustments to make a dish vegan, chances are good that all the food has been made ahead of time (at least) and not fresh to order.

The pizza was also lacking with no tomato sauce to speak of, barely cooked vegetables that slid off with every bite and a dough that left a lot to be desired. I wasn’t surprised but I was totally bummed because it was the worst cherry on top of a pretty good plant based sundae.

But it was a great day and that’s what matters…right?