Arizona

This Thanksgiving my family and I visited Arizona. We thought, “Where would be open on Thanksgiving? Ah, the Grand Canyon!” 😉 We flew into Tucson, drove north to Sedona, then to the Grand Canyon, and back south to Phoenix.

In Tucson we stayed in a beautiful airbnb that was formerly a bakery! We visited Saguaro National Park (West), ate delicious vegan meals, and traveled to Kitt Peak National Observatory for a special guided telescope program! I highly recommend the program, called Dark Sky Discovery.

In Sedona we stayed in an airbnb casita at the foot of Sugarloaf Mountain. The vistas were beautiful; like nothing I’d seen before. We went on a trolley tour to Boynton Canyon, then visited the Airport vortex. ChocolaTree is a vegan restaurant and shop that has a beautiful outdoor patio oasis where you can enjoy your meal.

We got an early start at the Grand Canyon, arriving at about 8:30am. We partook of some guided programs including a fossil walk and a history tour. We walked along the rim trail in the perfect weather, and we didn’t have to push our way through any crowds! It was an ideal time for a visit. We were tired and ready to head out by about 4pm, so we caught an IMAX showing of “Grand Canyon” at the National Geographic museum in Tusayan, followed by Thanksgiving dinner and a margarita pitcher at a Mexican restaurant. If we’d had the opportunity to spread out our time in the park, I would have loved to see the sun set at the canyon. Next time!

Off to Phoenix! We had a delightful brunch at Coronado, then hopped across the street to the Heard Museum of American Indian art. This was one of my favorite parts of the trip, and a welcomed surprise! The artifacts, art, and exhibits were so engaging, I found myself soaking up every word on the placards. I could have easily spent another day exploring. The descriptions of tight-knit tribes made me nostalgic for a culture i’ve never known, where the well-being of the whole is valued over that of the individual. Humans have a need for a strong social support system, a sense of cultural identity and initiation, and deep roots within their extended family. While reading about many of the tribal cultures, I saw a reverence for family, tribe, and the Earth itself. What have Americans given up by breaking away from the whole and glorifying the detached individual?

Another wonderful surprise was Las Noches de las Luminarias at the Desert Botanical Garden. After a tasty vegan Chinese dinner at Veggie Village, we arrived at the Gardens. The place is huge, and candle luminarias lit the pathways. There were different musical and performance acts along the walking loops, including Mexican folk dancers, jazzy Christmas bands, a handbell ensemble, an Indian storyteller and flute player, and an Irish Traveler band. There were drink bars set up where we sipped hot cider and Tuaca, and the crescent moon was shining on the cacti. It was a magical night!

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Slovenia: Bled, Kobarid, Šmartno, Dutovlje

We met our amazing guide Barbara in Ljubljana, and began our tour! We spent Monday in the city, and the next day Aleš, our tour’s bus driver, picked us up and drove us to the resort town of Bled. The lake has a small island with a beautiful church perched on top. The church was under restoration at the time of our visit, but we were still able to ring the church bell; you’re supposed to make a wish when you ring it. 🙂

We ate at a “Mexican” restaurant while in Bled. According to Barbara, Eastern Europeans love Mexican food (just like my sister). Sadly Europeans do not understand the concept of guacamole– It was consistently disgusting/canned everywhere we tried to order it. Once in Bled, I had a Laško beer since we were out of Union territory. Apparently there is a fierce rivalry between the brews, even though they’re both owned by Heineken now. 💁

We left Bled and started on our way through the Soča river valley to Kobarid. Along the drive we stopped at a Russian WWI memorial chapel. Putin is planning a visit for later this month! I never was a world war scholar, but visiting this region exposes you to WWI history. This is the place Hemingway wrote about in Farewell to Arms. After a night in Kobarid, we visited the town’s WWI museum, which was absolutely fascinating thanks to our guide, the museum director. He had carefully curated and researched the exhibitions with incredible detail. You could tell he was passionate about the region’s history, and most of all with the people caught up in the war’s destructive path.

We loaded our luggage onto the bus, and we were off to Slovenia’s Karst region! This had to be one of my favorite places on the whole trip. There were beautiful olive groves and vineyards stretching across the landscape. We stopped briefly in the hill town of Šmartno and I picked up some lovely handmade cosmetics and lavender sachets from Nona Luisa workshop. We drove on briefly through Italy (!) and then back into Dutovlje. We savored a beautiful lunch at Boris Lisjak winery: olives, bread, vegetable soup, roasted red peppers, local olive oil, and four kinds of amazing white and red wine! We even toured the wine cellars with the vintner himself. What an incredible day!!

London

My trip began here in my small town in New Hampshire. I never realized until I moved away to Savannah, GA how lucky I was to live near the world’s busiest airport: Hartsfield-Jackson International. When I was living in Atlanta I would hop on Marta and be at the gate within an hour for my nonstop Delta flight, but living in the middle of nowhere presents its own challenges, including 4 free car rides from friends, a bus, and 2 layovers. My outgoing layover was in London, and since I had never been to Britain before, I decided to add a mini 5-day vacation before my Rick Steves tour.

I was in London June 13-18, just one week before the Brexit decision. I stayed in an airbnb between the Pimlico and Victoria stations. I really enjoyed exploring the sights on the first day on my own. I just walked all around, soaking up the iconic landmarks like Big Ben, Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, St Martin-in-the-Fields, Buckingham Palace, the Millenium Bridge, and the Tower of London. The St Martin-in-the-Fields orchestra is a favorite on my local classical station WCRB, and visiting this church was high on my list! I even got to go to Bogorodytsye Dyevo, one of their free afternoon Great Sacred Music concerts celebrating Russia Day.

I also used Happy Cow to find vegan meals, and London has so many! Some standouts were Itadaki-ZenCampbell’s Canal CafeThe Gate Restaurant, and 222 Veggie Vegan. I also defeated jet lag by taking a suggestion from Sam Brown (remember her!?) to abstain from caffeine for two days before traveling, then directly inject espresso into your arm vein when you get off the plane. 😉 Joking, but seriously I drank a lot of “soya double macchiatos” during my trip.

One of the things I liked the most about London is its free museums. I visited the Victoria & Albert (great Asian art collection), the Tate Britain, Tate Modern (you had to pay for the featured exhibits), National Gallery, and the British Museum. British Museum was…. well, I’ll let this article explain: The art world’s shame.

Once my mom and sister arrived, we had an awesome adventure day visiting all the Beatles sites we could! First stop was the Beatles Coffee Shop at the St John’s Wood station. I couldn’t help but have the Rolling Stones’ song Play with Fire stuck in my head as we got off the train (conflict of interests, I know). We walked to that iconic crosswalk on Abbey Road and had so much fun dodging commuter traffic to take pictures and videos. Next we went to Baker Street to check out the home of Sherlock and Watson! Next door to 221B is another Beatles memorabilia store with mostly shirts and keychains. We then walked to the Marylebone station to recreate the opening scene of Hard Day’s Night where the boys are running from their rabid fans. Savvy Paul hides behind a newspaper.

London was a bit too grimy (loud and ugly construction projects were ubiquitous) and cold for me. While I love the myriad veg food choices, cultural diversity, and somewhat convenient public transportation, my head would be spinning if I chose to live there. Great for a visit, though! We’ll see how easy visting London will be once the divorce with EU is final in the coming years.

Exploring Outside

On Saturday I got up early and went hiking at Monadnock State Park. Despite getting there at 8am, it was insanely crowded on the summit trails, and I opted to hike around the mountain instead. What a beautiful place! I am so glad I invested in the state parks license plate (it gives me free admission!)

To continue a great weekend, my friend Christina (an amazing artist in Boston) and I had a totally winning Sunday! We started our day off with delicious vegan breakfast at Fiore’s Italian Bakery in Jamaica Plain. Then we were off to World’s End in Hingham, Mass. This park was designed by Frederick Law Olmstead and is situated on a peninsula. We were there at low tide and we were able to explore the coastline! The wind was howling as we walked across the bar; it was incredibly strong!! I thought i’d never see my hat again.

The entrance fee was $6, and there’s plenty of parking. You can get a good view of Boston over the water when you walk out onto the edge of the peninsula! Spring in New England is great.💐

Springtime Eating

This cold (albeit relatively mild) New England winter has been very tough on my food patterns! I found myself in a good flow towards the beginning of the year, coming home from work, prepping a large dinner, and then saving plenty of leftovers for the next day’s lunch. However, somewhere around the spring equinox, I started to get tired of prepping all the vegetables for dinner! Enter Gardein: the vegan’s bane. It was easy and fast to cook, very filling, and provided some protein-and-carb comfort during those blustery spring evenings. I was eating Gardein with brown rice (and some frozen veggies thrown in) sometimes as much as twice a week– and with all that added oil, sugary sauce, and salt, my clothes were fitting a little tighter (!), and my immune system was not operating at its most efficient.

This led to me catching a terrible virus that had been floating around my workplace. This is the most sick I have ever been– ever!! I had to cancel a fun trip to Hudson, NY that I’d planned a long time ago, and in addition to feeling terrible, I had to go across the street to the drug store and spend a bunch of cash on “severe” type medicines. Being sick is expensive, especially when you miss work.

I had the good fortune of being put in touch with another Georgia Bulldog alumna, Lisa, who is blogging about her inspiring life as a vegan nomad! Check out her blog here: Vegan Nomad Chick. She has inspired me to revamp my diet, shed my gardein weight🌚, and immune-boost my body! All this is very important because in 32 days, 13 hours, 28 minutes, and 18 seconds (but who’s counting!?) i’ll be embarking on my European voyage 2016!!💃💃💃

So far I’ve been eating lots of grapes, clementines, bananas, and kiwi. As soon as I see a sale on berries i’ll buy some, but for now, $6 is just too much for a snack! I’m still eating brown rice, just more sensible portions, and with an equal amount of steamed sweet potatoes, broccoli, carrots, and white potatoes. I’m feeling great, and even though my pride is slightly wounded by my sickness (I like to think i’m pretty sickness-resistant!), i’m sure i’ll be ready when the next virus comes around. 🙂

Breakfast Tacos

Important to note: keep your ingredients dry. If you’re cooking the veggies with broth or steam-frying, use only small amounts of liquid. If it gets too soupy (the vegs release water, too) crank heat to high and stir constantly until the liquids evaporate. These tacos are yummy with a side of grits, Lightlife breakfast sausage, or hashbrowns!

  • Heat coconut oil/evoo in a skillet and add curry powder (or plain turmeric). Cumin or chili powder may be used for a Mexican-style bfast.
  • Add diced onion and garlic; cook until aroma is harmonious (!).
  • Add chopped red bell pepper, and any other veggies you wish. I like carrot, mushroom, spinach, and broccoli.
  • Once veggies are cooked tender, add crumbled tofu and rinsed, drained black beans. I don’t press my tofu when making a scramble because the liquid evaporates quickly enough. Cook until tofu scramble is heated throughout. You may add tamari or soy sauce if you like salty!
  • On top of the scramble in the frying pan, place your frozen or fresh corn tortillas, and turn the heat to med-low. Put a lid on the pan and steam the tortillas this way. You may also steam them in the microwave using a damp paper towel.
  • Assemble your tacos! Garnish with red onion, cilantro, lime, avocado, vegan sour cream/yogurt.