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 Lost Weekend in Cluj-Napoca

Those of you who have started reading and following this blog–thank all of you for encouraging me to keep doing this!–know that one of my biggest passions is traveling. That’s right, in addition to being a romance author, ghostwriter, political junkie and vegan foodie, I love to get away.

Anytime.

Anyplace.

And it turns out that Romania is full of hidden gems. Okay maybe they’re not all that hidden but this is my first time here so it’s all brand new to me and therefore feels a little hidden. But some friends that we met in Germany are now living back in their homeland and invited us for a visit to their town, Cluj-Napoca.

cluj napoca romanian

If you’re like me you’ve already paused to Google this city and you’ll find out like I did that it is a BIG city. I mean it’s not my hometown of Chicago or my adopted hometown of Los Angeles but at 400k people, it is way bigger than I expected. So big that instead of heading to the town’s website or Wikipedia, I immediately Googled “vegan cluj napoca” because I was jonesing for a night out with some good, chef made, vegan food.

Lo and behold, there was an option.

Samsara

 

The restaurant was minimalist but nice and sophisticated, none of which I really cared about. The food however, was pretty darn good. We ate there twice and I enjoyed a delicious Thai curry soup, lentil soup the next day, Asian style noodles and a curry dish. Before you ask, no it was a pretty eclectic restaurant with plenty of options, not all of which were vegan which I thought was nice since there was a meat lover dining with us.

The soup was delicious but the noodle dish was a tad salty. All in all it was a mixed bag of treats but if we lived in Cluj it would likely be our lazy night option.

Luckily food was a small part of this weekend. I got a chance to visit a section of the Carpathian Mountains, a mountain range called Apuseni Mountains that was beautiful. And cold.

It was a simple sightseeing trip meant to kill a few hours between catching up and talking business but when you come upon this view, staying in the car is not an option. So dressed in my red Converse All-Stars, I got out–and got wet–just to capture some gorgeous scenery up close and personal.

But like I said, it was cold. Very cold and we didn’t stay in one part of the range for very long but the climb up took us from autumn weather to deeply winter in just a few hundred meters.

And what is a tired and hungry vegan to do after a day in the mountains? Eat, of course.

Toulouse was an adorable little bistro style cafe with a long, dark pine bar and an impressive liquor selection. And oddly enjoy, for some reason American Top 40 was playing…from the nineties. I loved it!

The food was…okay. I was able to get fajitas which made me smile because Mexican is my second favorite cuisine to eat. The vegetables were hot and seasoned well but the tomatoes in the salsa were canned. It probably sounds horribly snobby of me but I never eat salsa that isn’t fresh, not since I learned how to make salsa in college. It’s just a quirk of mine and I don’t mind it because canned tomatoes are entirely too sweet for salsa. Plus the way salsa and lime juice tastes together with parsley and fresh garlic? Anyway so that kind of ruined it for me–a little–but I did eat up every bit of the mushroom, onion and pepper mix. I would have liked more than tortilla triangles because I can guarantee that when it comes to tacos or fajitas, I can be guaranteed to overeat. #truth

That other sauce is guac and I’ll tell you now that I gave it to my husband because there are three vegetables I do not like: avocados, beets and eggplant. I can be pretty fair with everything else, even kale, but those are on my ‘never ever’ list which is probably why the salsa bummed me out so much.

But rest easy, I had my all-time favorite vegetable to cheer me up. Potatoes.

The hubs got a chickpea curry dish that was tasty with just enjoy coconut cream to rub off some of the heat. I love the heat but he doesn’t so I only had a bite to taste. Okay, two bites. Three bites. I had three bites.

The fresh tomatoes added a nice hint of acid and freshness. If we had another day I probably would have come back to try it out.

You’re wondering where the drink is, right?

Well in this oddly international lunch, I decided why not keep up the tradition and ordered a Paloma.

A simple grapefruit soda & tequila drink, this cocktail went perfectly with the fajitas.