Tag Archives: Croatia

Vegan meals: Europe

The biggest misconception about vegan travel is that as a vegan you won’t find anything to eat in a foreign country and therefore starve. Vegan Without Frontiers is desperately fighting that misconception by traveling, eating out or in, and not starving. I think it is time we wrote a post about food, seeing as how that is one of the main concepts associated with veganism. We have just left the European continent and it is our third day in Turkey. It is about time to reflect upon our meals that we have been having for the past month.

The luxury of Tibits being in Switzerland is that we had some!
The luxury of Tibits being in Switzerland is that we had some!

Firstly let me start with eating out because that is usually the biggest “problem”. Having left the comforts of London, we stopped in France for about a week, then we drove through Switzerland into Italy. All of those places had easy access to “comfort” food: pizza sans fromage (without cheese). Many people think of pizza as a gooey cheesy meat platter on thin crust, but go to even the smallest restaurant that serves pizza and politely ask for a vegetarian pizza without cheese and they will serve it to you with tomato sauce and grilled (or sadly canned) vegetables. The same goes for pasta: there are four options, either spaghetti aglio olio e peperoncino, spaghetti all’arrabiata, spaghetti carrettiera, or just spaghetti with tomato sauce and no cheese or meat.

Pizza okay, pasta had some meaty flakes for some reason
Pizza okay, pasta had some meaty flakes for some reason

With pizza we have had more luck, even though sometimes we get the puzzled questions “why no cheese” or the downright dirty look of “you don’t know what you are missing out” from waiters. Spaghetti was a different story, sometimes we got a delicious plate of slightly spicy deliciously saucy pasta, and sometimes we had problems. In a restaurant at one campsite we asked for a plate of oily spicy spaghetti, and we got badly cooked pale plate of pasta with oil and garlic, and a few flecks of meat, probably from another cooked meal or an unwashed pan. Right before crossing into Albania from Montenegro, Jonathan got a plate of spaghetti with bacon pieces on top. He didn’t even touch it, and when the waiter asked why, we explained that we are “vegetarian”. The waiter was confused, because he thought the meal was vegetarian, but then as we pointed out the bacon he just shrugged. Clearly the reaction there was “why wouldn’t you eat this pasta with extra bits” not “I gave them a meal they didn’t want even after being asked if there was anything else in the pasta”. The whole notion that people just don’t eat certain things and rely on menu descriptions for details on listed items simply doesn’t come across once you leave the comforts of London. We tried a different approach as well, by asking the waiters what exactly is in certain foods. Most of the time this has helped a lot and worked in our favor, but one time it didn’t.

Ljubljana camp "salad"
Ljubljana camp “salad”

When we camped outside Ljubljana, and went to eat lunch at the camp restaurant, there wasn’t much on the menu that we could have. There was a salad of vegetables from this season, so I asked the waiter whether it had anything else in it. She shook her head, and told us it was only vegetables. I made double-sure: “No cheese?”. She said “No cheese!”. What came out was a bowl of soggy vegetables covered in a creamy sauce. I half-heartedly tried to take out the creamy bits but gave up. When the waiter came to clear the table, I pointed out that I don’t eat “creamy things” and she apologized but again, no other reaction. Maybe I am slightly spoiled by America, where if you barely touch your dish, the waiter will ask if it can be replaced. Here they just shrug and probably put you down as a weirdo. And by “here” I mean outside of London, Chicago or Prague, the three places I know so well.

Random Italian restaurant with a custom meal for us
Random Italian restaurant with a custom meal for us

As we moved further, and travelled through Greece, we discovered there are more menu options for vegans, despite the actual menus being rarely translated into English (or any language comprehensible to us). While we were in Italy, we stopped at a random place for lunch, and speaking no Italian managed to get ourselves a custom meal of potatoes and beans, grilled vegetables and a massive bowl of salad. Similar things started happening recently: a staple for eating out now is a salad, and to go with it some vegetables, either grilled, or stuffed with rice, and once in a while French fries, which are getting less fried and more oven-baked as we move further away from western Europe. Once we had a bizarre meal consisting of an enormous plate of olives and another enormous plate of salad, and even though the olives were good, it put us off olives for a while.

Standard meal out
Standard meal out

The main thing is not to forget to eat regularly, so snacks are becoming more and more important. We have in the fridge hazelnuts and chocolate, and in the front seat we have random snacks we buy at gas stations, and sweets. Still, the more you travel into unknown lands, the less important “meals” have become. I am not going to lie, sometimes we skip breakfast, sometimes we skip lunch, and once in a while, if we drive a long way in the evening and camp very late, our “dinner” ends up being beer and conversation. When you are that tired, having driven a long distance on an empty stomach, sweating profusely and feeling really hot, once you camp for the night, all you want is a cold drink and a relaxed chat in the crappy outside chairs we bought and keep carrying around. After that it’s bed time and hopes of a hearty breakfast, which never follows anyway.

One of our many snacks, on a train to Florence
One of our many snacks, on a train to Florence

The easiest way to stay vegan and enjoy your food is to cook all of the meals yourself. We have been cooking a lot, and in some countries (where language is more of a barrier than other places, where camping wild is a better option than anything else) we have only eaten “home”-cooked meals.

Fried rice with cabbage, cold leftovers for lunch
Fried rice with cabbage, cold leftovers for lunch

We started out nicely in the south of France: barbecued vegetables and local wine! But as we moved along, we seem to be juggling spaghetti days with couscous or rice days and then once in a while something weird like potatoes or packet soup. It is quite easy to cook in the car, we have a fridge, stored food and spices, and a cooker. The problem is, sometimes we really are too tired, or sometimes the vegetables (usually mushrooms) go off too quickly, so if we end up buying mushrooms, we have to eat them within about two days. Cabbage, as we have discovered, lasts forever in the fridge, even when it has been cut. Jonathan makes very good spaghetti of all sorts, mostly olive oil, tomato and chilly related. I make whatever is left in the fridge, or whatever I crave at that particular moment, soup or salad or fried rice.

Lunch after a swim: bread, marmite, ajvar, veggies and fruit
Lunch after a swim: bread, marmite, ajvar, veggies and fruit

We try and not eat out too much, but sometimes driving all day we end up having to eat out or having to go “raw vegan” just off the main road. Our “raw vegan” usually means cut up vegetables, bread and something to go on the bread, such as Marmite, Ajvar or olive paste. And don’t forget all of the ripe peaches, cherries and watermelon we have been eating at certain times as well.

Ajvar, salad, bread
Ajvar, salad, bread

It is in people’s nature to think that a country’s cuisine is mostly filled with meat, fish and dairy products. Sadly, so far it does seem to be the case. However, that doesn’t mean you cannot enjoy the tasty wonders of certain places, because I have been enjoying olives and massive juicy tomatoes all throughout Europe, so telling vegans that traveling for us is hard because we will certainly starve is just not true in any shape or form. Ask questions and be creative is my advice.

Today's meal: potato warm salad, lettuce radish cold salad
Today’s meal: potato warm salad, lettuce radish cold salad

The underbelly of a tortoise, and the trip…

This week I’m going to take you on a tour through the other side of the trip. Yes, we have been swimming in the sea in beautiful places (up to 5 times a day as we rolled down the Adriatic coast through Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro and Albania). Yes, we have found great vegan food to eat and wine to drink. Yes, we have seen absolutely spectacular scenery and weird and unusual sights. But we have also had our issues, hardships and rough moments.

And then there’s the ‘unusual’ aspects of our journey and our characters which you might get to see develop over future posts and videos. For example, as I drive down rough tracks or open roads I am not only watching the road to be safe, but I am looking out for dead things in the road. Katana has a slightly unusual project on the go at the moment which I am supporting with a mixture of intrigue, admiration and revulsion. You will perhaps see the results in a photo gallery dedicated to ‘Katana’s Dead Nature Studies’, though I guess you won’t experience the full sensory affront of the subject. This has however also led to the rescue of a tortoise (I’m sure Katana wasn’t really disappointed to discover that this particular road-kill was just road-turned-on-its-back-unable-to-move).

Free Tortoise
Free Tortoise

We spent some time after that discussing how long it had been there, and whether the poo around it was its own and an indicator of its time inverted on the side of the road.

Stranded Tortoise
Stranded Tortoise

The tortoise rescue day also had other moments. Once we had packed up from our wild camp in the woods and stowed the shovel (they don’t have loos out there), I had a near miss with some road-kill which turned out to be a very-much-alive snake, and then spent a jolly half hour in 45plus degrees under Troopy by the side of the road greasing the suspension which had gone rather squeaky after our detour into the Albanian mountains. Incidentally, Troopy was given a pretty good workout in Albania – a lot of the mainish roads randomly run out of surfacing and turn into rough tracks or riverbeds, and we had deliberately gone off the map to see the wilderness, making the 4WD a necessity as we climbed into the mountains over eroded tracks inhabited by people on donkeys and mopeds.

Albanian Traffic
Albanian Traffic

Actually that last comment also applies to Albanian motorways where the most alarming incident (apart from having to swerve to avoid a lurching coach) was seeing 4 donkeys being dragged across a busy motorway between trucks, but they did seem more at home in the mountains.

Albanian Motorway Traffic
Albanian Motorway Traffic

I think I am also much more at home in the mountains. Put me in a city in traffic trying to find somewhere to park and I am liable to get a bit snappy and take the first excuse to escape I am given. Katana has been an excellent Navigator, of the sort whose good fortune is as much of an asset as her undoubted ability to choose and direct us on our route. But we have had our stressful moments when reality on the ground doesn’t appear to match reality on the maps and we have had to take a few minutes to calm down. That good fortune is awesome though – some of our best adventures have resulted from taking a less-intended route such as that which led us to our first wild camping of the trip.

Even that, however, was not looking good as we were detained by Croatian customs officials at the Bosnian border (where we had arrived by accident), who seemed to take delight in going through Katana’s personal belongings in great and repeated detail. It became clear that the young man’s intent was to cause discomfort enough to get us to ‘pay him a ticket’ right there rather than wait for a sniffer dog to be sent down, and then be dealt with by a judge if they found some hidden illegal items. Katana did a good job of ignoring them, whilst I paid friendly chatty attention to exactly what he was doing until they gave up and sent us on our way – the dog never did arrive. Bad taste left though.

So on the subject of taste – back to our vegan mission. That too has been largely great, but occasionally not so much fun. Driving along the northern part of the Croatian coast was for some time just a succession of whole pigs on spits by the side of the road – which given the sparse traffic must have amounted to 1 per person on the road and was the only food available for some miles. Then there was the restaurant that served the Arrabiata sauce with slices of bacon, though not as stated on the menu.

Attempting to use up Albanian currenc
Attempting to use up Albanian currency

And now we are in Athens, or at least a campsite outside the city. At least, it calls itself a campsite but we are still trying to work out what the true purpose of its existence is. A caravan graveyard? A dog breeding farm? A mosquito super-bug breeding centre? Who knows? We are the only guests. Yesterday there was an Australian couple here who had been here 3 days and seen no other customers. And yet cars come and go, the mosquitoes are watered and the toilets don’t flush. The dogs sit outside Troopy at night and bark at each other or into space. We leave tomorrow and that can’t come soon enough.

Up until now the worst campsite we encountered was a dilapidated site in Montenegro with 1 small toilet block that nobody seemed to use – on getting up early to find them being hosed down, I wandered behind a second (overgrown out of use) wash block and found an area of concrete liberally encumbered with piles of human poo, and a ditch full of toilet paper. At least then I understood. This place is more disturbing than that, and we aim to camp wild more often from now on. Right now we are using beer as an antidote to weirdness…it seems to be working!

It’s a hard life we’re leading…

I am sitting in Croatia, right by the sea, we just saw a bunch of little crabs hiding behind rocks in the tide. And I have two band-aids on one finger, plus a red dot on my wrist and yet another bump on my head, and a slight burn on my other finger. This is what I call one of the best of Katana’s clumsy days. But let’s start at the beginning.

Last time Jonathan checked in, we were in Vrhpolje at a lovely camp site. On our “day off” in the valley (which apparently leads all the way to Milan! According to one local anyway) I decided to do some serious bit of exercising and hike up a few hills/mountains, leaving Jonathan to his own bits while I took the tracker for a walk. What I planned on was a marked path for about three hours. What I got was a 5 hour confused and slightly lost hike which mostly led me uphill through some very densely spider populated areas. I was exhausted, the weather was humid and hot, I kept running into spiderwebs, I kept getting on the wrong tracks and having to go back. Eventually I found myself at the next village north of Vrhpolje and walked down from there through the valley. Apparently Jonathan followed my route through the tracker the whole way and once he saw I was safely on my way back, he abandoned the idea of having to drive Troopy to rescue me, and instead had some wine. The hike was so hard that for two days my legs were out of order pretty much completely.

Picture up on a tree during my 5 hour hike
Picture up on a tree during my 5 hour hike

That night we went to the local pizzeria for a few beers and met a lovely English-speaking local man, probably a farmer, who told us fascinated (and long-winded) stories of the valley, why it was important during the Roman empire, and bits of other local trivia. As we said before, Slovenians are very lovely and friendly, always happy for a chat in whatever language, and most of them seem to know English to some extent.

The next day we had to say goodbye to the lovely campsite, its owners, the two Dutch couples who we shared the watermelon with, and the two English guys who came on motorcycles, and headed toward Ljubljana.

Ljubljana is very strange as a city. It seems to occupy a fair amount of space, but the “center” is very small, and you can walk anywhere you want to go quite quickly. On the other hand they seem to have a good bus system as well, and the geography is not too complicated. The first unpleasantness we encountered was from the campsite’s restaurant. I ordered a mixed salad, and asked if it had any cheese, and the waitress said “no, no, just vegetables, that’s all”. When they brought it out, the salad had “bird crap” on it, as we call it: creamy dressing. I was quite upset by this and tried to fish out the bits untouched but in the end gave up. Usually in this situation I would not say anything to the waitress but Jonathan prodded me, and so I did make a comment about how “I don’t eat dairy, milk products. I thought this was going to be just vegetables” but the waitress just apologized a bunch of times and nothing came of it. The result? Well, on the one hand, we are hoping next time a vegan comes and asks for a salad, she might ask them particularly what they want on the salad. The other outcome is that I should know better next time and not trust menu listings or waiters for clear information.

The sad salad covered in gross inedible dressing
The sad salad covered in gross inedible dressing

We spent the afternoon walking around Ljubljana, climbed the hill to the castle, and my legs were just killing. We found a vegan frozen cake cafe, which I didn’t see listed on HappyCow! The cakes were great, but we didn’t linger too long.

Vegan ice cakes!
Vegan ice cakes!

After a few hours of the city, I was ready to collapse. Still tired from my hike, my muscles not working, and having not slept the previous night, I felt dizzy and nauseous. Oh yes – the previous night there was a scary loud and wet thunderstorm, which kept me up most of the night, because I have a fear of lightning and thunder when I am not in a building – and sleeping in Troopy upstairs, well we get rocked around a lot and the wind and the rain are so loud that I was terrified and even spent some of the time underneath curled up in a sleeping bag, trying to shut out the noise. Also, our awning fell and almost broke. So we didn’t get much sleep. Instead of checking out one of the vegan spots in the city, we went home (Troopy) as I thought I might actually collapse. My mood improved somewhat by Jonathan’s wonderful cooking.

We got an extra day to spend in Slovenia, so we went to Triglav National Park, which is on the northwest side of the country, with the tallest mountain in Slovenia – Triglav – right in the heart of the park. We found a campsite that wasn’t too touristy, called Kamp Kamne. It was pouring rain but very beautiful scenery, sort of like the Alps but with less roads and less “Swiss”. The lady of the campsite didn’t seem too eager on our walk and told us “you can go see the waterfall but it’s raining and it will continue to rain so no”… which was a bit odd. But we got our rain gear on and decided to take on the rain, which incidentally stopped and didn’t rain again until we returned about 3 or 4 hours later.

We walked to Mojstrana and then instead of looking for the waterfalls, we went on a hike up the mountain, which didn’t make my aching legs feel any better. Of course, walking up a slippery road with no proper hiking gear is quite dangerous, and we ended up tumbling down, slipping and falling, getting all our clothes muddy and my shoes covered in bits of earth and leaves. On the way back Jonathan picked up some wild berries, and we didn’t even get poisoned from them.

Hike up a mountain in Triglav National Park
Hike up a mountain in Triglav National Park

Because it had been raining for days, we were unable to dry any of our clothes at all, so we had to carry around with us stale-smelling damp laundry and towels… not pleasant. Today we drove back to Ljubljana to meet up with Dani from the Slovenian Vegan Society and Nina from the “Osvoboditev Zivali” society (Animal Liberation – rough translation) for a chat and an interview. This meeting deserves its own blog post in the future – which we will do in a few days when I transcribe the interview.

We also looked in on two vegan food places in Ljubljana – Bobencek, which is a tiny little spot in the center with only two tables but lots of amazingly tasting food, and Loving Hut food stand, which had good food also.

Food ordered at Bobencek: soup of the day, falafel wrap and avocado sandwich.
Food ordered at Bobencek: soup of the day, falafel wrap and avocado sandwich.

After our lunch we drove to a new country – Croatia!!! And found a campsite right on the northern part of the coast and right by the sea. I mean literally by the sea – I am hearing the waves as I type this.

We went for a swim and strange things started happening. Both Jonathan and I felt weird things touching us / little stings while we swam, but neither confessed until later in the evening, when I had to dig out the medical kit for tick removal. I discovered a tick on my left wrist whilst walking on the campsite. A tiny brown and black thing, burrowing into my skin. I’ve never had a tick before, so I felt icky and interested at the same time. We tried the old methods – pouring alcohol, pouring oil. But then I googled it and apparently you’re supposed to just pull it out gently, not squeezing its tummy. Well, I pulled it out and cleaned the bite. After the tick incident we felt paranoid, so we confessed our weird prodding / stinging feelings in the water, turns out we both felt it but we have no marks on our bodies. Then Jonathan went through my hair looking for more ticks, which probably raised some eyebrows of the passers-by. Then we started smelling our hanging towels and the fleece blanket to see if the stale smell of wet clothes went away. This probably raised more eyebrows. All in all… a good day.

Crossing the border into Croatia!
Crossing the border into Croatia!

P.S. I am actually posting this the next day from a small coastal town after a third swim in the sea. We had no wifi prior.