20 December 2013

Vegan Camino Essentials: What We Packed

Let's take a quick moment to talk about something important: What food/cooking items to bring from home!

Everyone's tastes and cooking habits are different, but when it comes to being vegan (and, in my case, gluten-free) on the Camino, there are some things that you can do without or find along the way, and there are other things that are essential to survival (or at least basic happiness).

After a lot of online research and educated guesses, this is what we ended up packing:

From left to right: 
In the baggie in front: Truvia (a brand of stevia-based sweetener), some powdered greens & protein mixes, tea
Dried fruit (apricots, dates and figs)
Nutritional yeast (in a bag, and more in the tupperware jar with the green lid)
Chocolate soy milk
PB2 and PB2 Chocolate (powdered peanut butter) (2 more jars on the right)
A travel bottle of olive oil (leftover from A's airplane salad)
2 Tubes of vegan pate
In the green travel bottle: TVP (textured vegetable protein)
Soy milk powder
Rice cakes
Corn cakes
A small kitchen knife with a plastic case
In the tupperware jar with the purple lid: homemade Gatorade/electrolyte juice powder

Our general rule for bringing something was that it had to have a high nutrient/calorie content compared to its weight. Most of these items can also be purchased in Spain, and easily replenished (ex: the dried fruit and nuts, as well as rice/corn cakes).

Some thoughts on our essentials: 
- The PB2 was AMAZING. It's just peanuts that have had the oil pressed out, leaving a fine, protein-dense powder. And, most importantly, it's lightweight! Each jar weighs 6.5 ounces and reconstitutes (with a little bit of water) to the amount you would get from an 18 ounce jar. AMAZING. And wonderful for making an apple or a sandwich a little more filling. (Our personal thought was that the regular PB2 is pretty bland on its own, but you can't tell when you're eating it on something else.)

- The TVP was great for making our dinners more filling, and again, is something that is lightweight and goes a long way when reconstituted.

- The soy milk powder was... disappointing. Firstly, because it was GROSS. Very chalky. Secondly, it was not super necessary. We realized that we were burning so much energy that we could easily go through a 1 liter bottle of soy milk (or more) per day. Also, soy milk is super easy to find.

- The kitchen knife was really great because it didn't take up much space, and there were a lot of times when we needed it to cut bread or peel fruit on the road, and even some times when we found ourselves in an albergue kitchen that had no cooking utensils at all.

- The Gatorade powder was not essential, but it definitely came in handy for mid-afternoon energy boosts, and for giving unsavory well-water a better flavor.

Typically, we would pick up fresh fruits, vegs and bread for the day when we entered a new town, and a bag of rice, pasta or lentils when we needed it. We tried not to carry more than we would use in the next day or two, because the food weight really added up.

13 December 2013

Paris to St. Jean Pied de Port, France

Finally, the day arrived! We took an early train from Paris to our starting point on the Camino, the quiet town of St. Jean Pied de Port, France, in the foothills of the Pyrenees mountains.

arriving at the train station
After registering for our Pilgrim Passports and finding an albergue (we stayed at the municipal albergue; very cozy and welcoming), we listened to the grumbling in our bellies and set out to find a place to eat. Since we were in a tiny town in Basque Country, we were apprehensive about what we might find, but we finally decided that we could make do with a restaurant called Cafe Ttipia. Boy, did we get lucky! Turns out, our waitress had a vegan niece, so she new exactly what to offer us on the menu. We ended up with an amazing spread of typical (vegan) Basque food: 2 garden salads, a plate of fire-roasted red peppers (called "piquillos"), a massive bowl of french fries (excusez-moi, frites), fresh-squeezed orange juice, and a basket of bread. Seriously, we could not have gotten luckier!
Cafe Ttipia in St. Jean Pied de Port, France
This experience taught us Lesson #1 for traveling well on the Camino: Always ask! In this case, we got exactly what we needed and more from our server: She customized the salads for us (no cheese) and saved us tons of time trying to read the French/Basque/Spanish menu and figure out what we could eat. In future situations, we would save time by immediately learning that the restaurant had nothing on the menu for us. Well, that's helpful too! Better than reading the menu for 10 minutes and letting the "hanger" set it. Communication is key.

little did we know we'd be climbing that beautiful beast the next morning.

After our awesome dinner, we took a little time to enjoy the serenity that is St. Jean Pied de Port, then headed back to our hostel for an early night in. It was there that we met someone who would turn out to be an almost constant Camino friend, along with his travel companion who we met later on. Camino friendships are so special!

06 December 2013

Stopover in Paris

After our respective travels visiting friends in various European cities, we met up in Paris to begin the Camino journey!

Here is an immediate disclaimer: this post will not do Paris justice! Our stay was barely 3 days, and we got a little overwhelmed by the massive size of the city, the very long list of sites we wanted to see, a bunch of random pre-Camino logistics, and our very unpleasant (read: dirty and weird) hostel. All in all, though, I'm so glad we went, since I had never been to Paris before, and I'm proud of how much we saw in such a short trip! We both vow to go back someday for a proper Parisian holiday, when we have a few more Euros in our pockets and a few more days to enjoy this beautiful city.

Day 1 in Paris started with getting locked out of our hostel (did we mention they closed from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. for no good reason?), so we didn't have much time to plan out our day before we set to the streets.  It was drizzly, so we made a beeline for the Louvre, one of the few indoor activities on our wishlist. It was the perfect way to pass a rainy afternoon!

From there we wandered into a vegan bakery, Vegan Folies. They mostly had delicious-looking cupcakes, but we asked if they had any gluten-free options. Turns out, they had a cheesecake with a chestnut flour crust. It was delectable! We also indulged in some Bionade fizzy juices... Elderberry and Litchi! What a lovely reprieve from the rain and cold.

Chestnut-crust chocolate cheesecake and bionade fizzy juices at Vegan Folies.
That evening we got lost trying to find the Eiffel Tower (don't ask us how...to our credit the Parisians we asked for directions were also confused about where the large well-lit tower was!). Finally, we arrived and had a dinner picnic amidst a slew of drunken teenagers, couples making out, late-night joggers, and a bride and groom taking wedding photos. Gotta say, it was a pretty magical place!
Our picnic was simple: baguettes and corn cakes with vegan pate, hummus, and carrots.
Our best shot with le eiffel tower

Day 2 in Paris included some errands, and some wandering, but most importantly, an epic visit to The Loving Hut. It's an international chain, but if you ever find yourself in a city with a Loving Hut, do yourself a favor and visit. The menu is customized to the cuisine of the area, with a little Asian twist. We pigged out!

Spring rolls, veggies and rice noodles

Savory soup!

Vegan, Neapolitan banana split... YUMMO

Cardamom rose lattes... yes please.

There was a lot we missed, gastronomically and culturally, but all in all Paris was a great stepping stone to the start of the Camino...........