I haven’t written an entry in months! This summer has been so busy and hot that I have been working, traveling, and exploring too much to write. Since my last post, I got my visa and started working, started a vegan potluck meetup, and traveled to Vienna and Belgium. I worked more than I thought I would in Germany and traveled less, but hopefully this fall that will change. Here are some highlights of the summer and things I’ve learned to like and not like about Berlin:
The people we’ve met here are pretty awesome.
After starting the potluck meetup, we’ve met many vegan foreigners like us who are from everywhere, love to eat, and are mostly in tech too. It’s been amazing to find people who we get along with and have things in common. We’re even planning trips to travel with some new friends too. In LA I struggled to find people that were social or would hang out more than once because of FOMO or because we lived too far away. With everyone living in the city center and never more than a bike ride or max 20 min. train ride away, you can be more spontaneous.
Vegan food and amazing coffee… is everywhere
There is so much good, sometimes healthy, and cheap food here. There are also more flexitarians who are willing to eat at vegan restuarants without crying about it. I also haven’t had to explain myself at nauseam like at every other place I’ve lived. I’ve loved eating 5€ vegan doner kebab to a fresh bowl of soup and hearty German bread at the yoga place across the street.
The service and attitudes of Germans can be lacking
From service workers, to pharmacies, to people on the street, you will either get someone really nice or somone who will walk pass you on the street and shoulder check you with never saying anything like sorry or excuse me, while they are smoking a cigarette over a baby. Sometimes I miss America for even the fake niceness or courteousness - but then I remember America has bigger problems.
We Moved to Berlin!
So it's been a week since we moved to Berlin and I thought it was time to start writing about our experience moving abroad and some of my first impressions of this city!
Before discussing my thoughts on the city, I thought I would answer the why. A lot of people were surprised by our move - but mostly jealous. However, this is something we have wanted to do for basically forever. Almost every year, we would take our one big vacation in Europe. We always travel how a local does - we stay in Air BnBs, cook at home, go to meetups, and hang out like we would in LA. That way we can get a good feeling for how living in the city would be. Paris is beautiful but too traditional/strict, Italy is amazing and relaxing but tech is way behind, Scandinavia is cool but didn't blow us away...but Berlin was so different.
We heard the rumors and stats of Berlin and it hit everything on the Über Checklist - most green city, most vegan city, super tech startup city, English-friendly, family friendly, no Trump, etc. So after years of being Euro-curious, we made the leap and moved here.
What's It Like?
Americans don't know much about Germany except the stereotypes. I was told I would only be able to eat sausage and beer, and that everyone is cold. After visiting and moving here, I can definitely say that both are ridiculous generalizations. Similar to saying Americans only eat hot dogs and smile too much - kind of true - but too simplified.
In reality, LA and Berlin are similar in a lot of ways - and in many ways they are different. Both cities are a bubble - they have liberal, alternative people mostly living in them, there is always something to do, there is great food, culture, and people. Berliners have been more friendly, social, and open-minded than their LA counterparts. Even just this week, we have met lots of friends, went to an impromptu dinner with four people we just met, and met people from all over the world doing something similar to us.
For the day-to-day, I find Berlin to be much safer, QUIETER, super walkable, and healthier.
Safety - no weekly school shootings, drugged up transients in my doorway, and even small children take the subway alone with no problem.
Senses - It's so quiet it's actually scary/I love it. LA was ridiculously loud. With the constant helicopters or screaming people in the streets, neighbors with loud music and TVs until 2am.. Berlin is super quiet. Ride the subway at rush hour in a packed car and people are whispering and no one is playing a loud boombox. At home, it's so peaceful I don't think anyone is alive. For the smell - I'm not missing Eau de LA (weed/urine/body sweat mix) in all the streets...but that always reminds me of home.
Walkable - I lost 3 pounds during this week, just living like a German. I don't have a car and I have a mini-fridge (aka a normal German size fridge). So I am walking everywhere and going to my local store a few times a week. I only get the necessities to cook for the next few days and don't waste anything.
Health - Everyone is really healthy here - except for the constant smoking/drinking. We went to a local hackerspace on the weekend where we all stopped what we were doing at 5pm, walked to the store, bought groceries and cooked a healthy vegetable stir fry and salad together. The other hackerspace cooked a vegan tomato soup for everyone last time we were here. The food doesn't have as much added sugar as the US so we've reduced our salt and sugar intake by just leaving the states. We can even walk across the street and get a healthy homemade vegan meal or hearty soup for 4 euro any time of day.
Final Thoughts for Now
So far I'm really liking my new town. I really needed a change and even though I wanted to take a Trump detox (which isn't working because he's prolific) I'm loving the lifestyle here. I'm excited for 6 weeks of vacations, summertime, and more fun events to meet all the amazing people here.
The Romantic Road (Romantische Straße) is a 220 mile route through old German towns in Bavaria. We traveled almost all of it going from Nuremberg to Rothenburg ob de Tauber to Augsburg to Fussen and finally driving back to Munich. There are some beautiful towns along the way and some secret vegan spots too. We took the train from Berlin to Nuremberg, rented a car (got a crazy fast BMW), got on the Autobahn, turned on Kraftwerk's "Autobahn" on repeat and drove 1 million mph/kph. Here's what we did, ate, and stayed on our trip. Ridiculous people will say vegans will die on this trip from hunger, but obviously that's not true. Stick to the restaurants and cities we stayed in, and you will have fantastic food, meet great people, and see the old Germany along the way.
Our first stop from the train was in Nuremberg (aka Nürnberg). This is a modern city that has some beautiful bridges and churches. But of course, I'm there for the the true beauty - vegan cat cafes! Katzentempel is a vegan restaurant chain / cat cafe that is growing all over Germany! The Nuremberg location opened only a few weeks before we arrived and it was fantastic. They have homemade coffee drinks, seitan sandwiches, burgers, and cats roaming around to greet you while you eat.
Rothenburg ob der Tauber:
We got the car and drove to Rothenburg ob der Tauber that same night. This is an amazing, beautiful, old city. This is the city you think about when you think old German town. You can roam around the fortress walls, through the cobblestone streets, and visit the Christmas stores all year round. The food is pretty bare here, but we managed to get some sandwiches and soup at Cafe Einzigartig and visit the little vegan store in town for some homemade vegan chocolate gingerbread cookies and other snacks at Lebe Gesund.
To stay - We stayed in a cute hotel when you go right inside the walls of Rothenburg. It's called Prinzhotel Rothenburg. It was well located, and did the job for the night so I would recommend it during your stay.
|Cute streets of Rothenburg ob der Tauber|
K-41 became one of our favorite restaurants in Germany. It's all slow cooked, homemade food that is a random mix of Thai, Indian, Vietnamese, etc. The owner is a super nice guy who just cooks a bunch of dishes overnight, and serves a soup, huge plate of food, and small smoothie dessert at the end. Everything is 7 euro - which is super cheap for what you get. We ended up going there for dinner and lunch the next day because the food was great and the owner was nice too.
To stay - We stayed in a kinda funky hotel that was cheap, but worked out. I don't think I would recommend it, but it was super convenient and walkable to K41, the main city, and a church that has the oldest stained glass in the world. InterCityHotel Augsburg.
|K41 mixed plate|
|Oldest stained glass windows|
The final destination of the trip was Fussen - the beautiful city where Neuschwanstein castle is (near). It's a city on the border of Germany and Austria and is a spectacular place to see the view, drive by grazing cows, and enjoy the huge forests lush with trees and rivers. The air smells of manure all the time on the way there, so roll the windows up and enjoy the view from the inside :) . We walked from our hotel to Beim Olivenbauer which literally blew my mind with the - best beer - I'll ever drink along with fantastic vegan options all in a weird/quirky German restaurant. We were fighting over the Potato Croquettes and the Carrot Zucchini Burger with potatoes for sure - it sounds boring but it was (as usual in Germany) a nice, homemade vegetable concoction with tons of flavor. Get some hot tomato soup. Then drink my favorite beer, the Tante Paula, which is a light beer that was super smooth, felt like drinking water, yet made me buzzed in 10 seconds lol.
On the way out, we had our final meal at a nice cafe/restaurant called Bio Cafe Baumgarten which has a vegan crepe and will make a nice oat milk cappuccino right in town.
To stay - We stayed at Hotel Fantasia in Fussen. I really loved staying there because it's walking distance to our favorite restaurant in the city, it's a few mile drive to the castle, and it was great for walks to the forest and short hikes on the Austrian border.
|Bio Cafe Baumgarten|
|Crepe at Bio Cafe Baumgarten|
|Austrian border and walking path|
|Beer at Beim Olivenbauer|
|Potato Croquettes at Beim Olivenbauer|
|Carrot Zucchini burger - Beim Olivenbauer|
|Cows of the Romantic Road|
We ended the trip in Munich, dropped off the car and stopped listening to Kraftwerk on repeat after the millionth time of hearing "Autobahn" while driving 8 million miles an hour. We again ate at Katzentemel this time in Munich. They have the same food options, different cats, and it's just as nice as Nuremberg. We grabbed coffee at this amazing vegan cafe with coffee and pastries (chocolate croissantssss) called Lost Weekend - just always get the oat milk iced/hot lattes everywhere. The best restaurant we had was Max Pett. It's more expensive than most restaurants in Germany (more LA prices) but they have great brunch, dinner and desserts.
To stay - We stayed in the main city area where all the hotels were - but that was a mistake. That place is crayyyy and has a lot of strip clubs and crazytowns. The hotel was fine, but I would stay at an AirBNB somewhere closer to the city center next time. It's called Cocoon Stachus if you're up for it. It's walking distance to the main railway station and easy to get to the airport. Run by Backwerk for some borek spinat (spinach pastry) on the way to the train too.
|Curry at Katzentempel Munich|
|Max Pett - Omelette brunch|
|Monster Pretzels of the English Garden|
Our 2017 vacation was to the great country of Germany! Vegans may know Berlin as one of the world's most vegan-friendly cities..and it's true. There are over 50 vegan restaurants in Berlin alone and that doesn't include the vegetarian and vegan options in almost every restaurant you pass. I will write about my favorites on the trip including some on the Romantic Road (Romantische Straße) in Bavaria and Munich. Germany is not just sausages - just as America is not just hot dogs and hamburgers...it's a young, changing city with great food, coffee, and people from all over the world.
Romantic Road Trip & Restaurants
Kopps is a fancy vegan restaurant that has the most spectacular all-you-can-eat brunch for €15! I had a huge selection of options from a croquette with gravy, fresh bread and cheese, eggy hot dishes and cold pasta salads. Plus desserts, coffees and even beers. You can go up there as much as you want (and no one changes their plate like in the U.S.) and it always seems to be hot food and full. We ate here with a fantastic vegan meetup group, so we had a big table, lots of food, and great conversation with people from five different countries.
I haven't tried the dinner which is completely different, but it's a set menu and much more expensive. I will definitely come back here to try both dinner and brunch.
Viasko is a vegan restaurant that plays punk and dark wave and won't let you in with faux fur, for reals. The staff is super nice and helped my terrible German become a little bit better at least in ordering food the right way! There was a short menu, so the best thing on there was the schnitzel (seitan) with white asparagus. It was my one and only schnitzel experience, and it was really well done. I hear their brunch is even better on the weekend and the tiramisu dessert was absolutely amazing.
No Milk Today
No Milk Today is a cute all vegan cafe in Kreuzberg. They serve fantastic lattes with croissants, quiches, bagel sandwiches and salad. It's a casual place to hang out in the cute library in the back or outside on the patio or beach chairs on a beautiful day. Try their Vietnamese coffee with a croissant for a special treat.
Sfizy Vegan is an all vegan Italian pizzeria from real Italianos. This is the best pizza in out of Italy because there are so many fantastic flavors that I was never able to try in Italy. This is the best pizza place I've ever been to because the dough is exceptional and they serve soft calzones stuffed with sausages, cashew cheese and spinach that are to die for. Pictured before the calzone is a pesto pizza with eggplant and peppers. They speak German, Italian and English here and the environment is that of a small family-run Italian restaurant with random tables and chairs and old Italian portraits on the walls. They serve great wine and sparkling Mate. I didn't try their homemade tiramisu, so I will need to travel back here to get it because it looked amazing as well! Don't skip this place, and make a reservation!
Voner wins the prize for the most surprising meal of the trip. For only €4.50, you can eat an insanely massive vegan doner with freshly made sesame bread, seitan from a spit (that thing in doner place with the fat meat hanging from a pole), vegan yogurt sauce on top of fresh vegetables. The place is small and the food is cheap, but damn was this place surprising, filling and a fantastic find in the arty district of Friedrichshain. I was disappointed that we didn't find more wall art in this neighborhood (more graffiti) but the doner and club mate made it all better.
GaYaYa is "pan-Asian" vegan food located in Mitte. I'm guessing this is a mix of Cambodian and Malaysian food, but I've really never had anything like it. The food was absolutely amazing, and I've never had these flavors together. We both got the 3 course meal which consisted of their two top dishes, a curry and noodle dish with an amazing coconut milk and mango dessert. I can't really describe the dishes, but as you see in the picture - there is a lot going on! This place is across the street from Sammlung Boros, an old Nazi bunker turned POW Russian prison, turned banana storage, turned 90s underground rave, turn modern art museum that we toured. We ran into this place accidentally, but it turned out to be one of my favorite spots!
Momos is the first place we stopped after the long flight from LA to Berlin. 15 hours of travel to get vegan dumplings filled with potatoes, carrots, and some with tofu. After we ordered the 18 momo plate with all the vegan options and sauces, we saw that we could have ordered a plate with over 30 for a little more money. I would definitely come back here, get the 30 plate and stuff my face with it. This is also a moment where I want to acknowledge Momos being our first ever ChariTea Sparkling Mate experience which basically changed our lives. This is not a product in the states, unless you want to pay $10 a bottle to importers on Amazon, so drink up! This was my first Mate out of the next 20 or so that would follow for the 2.5 week trip. Note - This place is a vegetarian dumpling place, but everything is marked vegan or not.
Brammibal's Donuts was similar to the vegan donut shops in LA like Donut Friend or Donut Farm. It's a coffee bar and donut shop where you can drink tasty lattes with oat milk along with your boston cream pie donut on the right (which they call Dulce de Leche) and the pistachio rose water donut on the left. The difference here is donuts are half the price of the US (at €2.50 each instead of the LA $5 vegan taxed donuts) and you can walk right outside to watch the swans swim by on the Landwehr Canal which the Germans are sunbathing all day on the nice days.
Louloute Gourmet Brunch
This was one of my favorite memories from the Berlin trip. Louloute Gourmet is not a restaurant, but instead a private three-course vegan meal made at the chef's house! I found this Saturday morning brunch on Meetup.com, but you can RSVP on the site too https://www.louloutegourmet.com/ . We showed up to an intimate table to seat four and we could choose between coffee, chai, three different mimosas with fresh orange juice and custom homemade flavors like infused Earl Gray syrup, or a Bloody Mary for drinks. Next, we had an appetizer course shown here with my favorite dish, vegan lox. We had a main course which was a middle eastern spicy tomato dish and freshly made chocolate croissants for dessert. The best thing about the visit was meeting fellow local vegetarian/vegan people and meeting the chef. This is highly recommend and a unique event to meet new people and eat great food!
I almost didn't want to put Lucky Leek's review on here because of the just annoying experience we had here, but I will put it because it's on my traveler's lists for a vegan Berlin trip. This is basically the only all vegan fine dining experience you can have in Berlin, it's €50 per person for a 5 course meal..this would actually be the normal price of many dining experiences in LA, NYC, or San Francisco and the food is definitely nice..but not worth the pain. We were stuck in our seat for over three hours while they slowly brought out each tiny dish. They didn't offer any water (usual Germany style), but after hours of entrapment, I just wanted to run out of there and go to Momos where I could get 30 dumplings for like $15 or something. Maybe go to this place once their service improves and they learn how to not trap their guests. Also - Cash only for a €100 meal is pretty ridiculous, so come prepared with a sack full of coins and you'll be good. This is a hit or miss place, so come without being in a rush, bring your own water, and you'll probably be happy.
We stayed in two neighborhoods in Berlin for a 10 day trip: Kreuzberg and Prenzlauer Berg. These are always on the top list for hippest parts of the city. Kreuzberg was just ok. The highlights are some of the best restaurants like Sfizy Veg, Brammibal's Donuts and No Milk Today. Some of these are in the neighboring area Neukoln. It was a run-down area before because it was at the border of the wall. After the wall fell, the best techno clubs and artists moved in. Prenzlauer Berg is a much better neighborhood IMHO because it's more central, has better food and coffee. The area is Germany's number one fertile neighborhood, so kids and families are everywhere. I've heard the streets of Prenzlauer Berg as the "Stroller Autobahn" and it's true.
My first impression of Berlin was just shock. It's so different than every other European city I've seen. Because of WWII and the DDR, the city was completely re-built. It's the newest old city because mostly everything has been built after the 1950's...even the beautiful Tiergarten park. There are so many stats that come from Berlin: #1 vegan city in Europe, #1 green city in Europe, #1 start-up funding in Europe. It's an oddly perfect city for us. We love parks, vegan foodz, and tech. It has 25% non-Germans, so it's full of expats and English speakers. I met a lot of people who packed-up and moved to Berlin including many Canadians and people all over Europe.
The best part of Berlin is just riding your bike through the windy streets, stopping by to get some vegan dumplings and Momos or some vegan donuts from Brammibal's and laying down in a beautiful park with birds chirping everywhere like Tiergarten...while drinking ChariTea Sparkling Mate our favorite drink.
We went to a bunch of meetups because the vegans and techys are thriving there. First, there was Romy's amazing Secret Vegan Dining meetup where she cooks an amazing 3-course meal with drinks and desserts at her house. Next, we went to the monthly vegan brunch meetup at Kopps (best all-you-can-eat vegan brunch in the world for 15 euro). During the week, we went to a barcamp style meetup at Wikimedia called the Social Digital Innovation meetup. The next day was an IOT meetup with a panel of three German start-ups and the craziest pretzel spread you've ever seen. Finally, we went to the C-Base hackerspace for a Crypto-party night...in a crash-landed spaceship that lives beneath the entire city :)
Berlin is a pretty bad place to visit if you're looking for tourist attractions. There is Checkpoint Charlie that will entertain you for 1 minute. There is the Brandenburg Gate which is beautiful. There are many memorials for the horrific history and there is Parliament. There are probably a few more things, but Berlin has no f-ing Eiffel Tower. It's just a crazy city that was rebuilt after the fall of the wall and re-invented itself in the last 28 years.
This is not the old Germany that people think it is. People told me Germans are cold. Germans only eat sausages and I'll die of starvation. None of that's true of course, and the country is really diverse. Berlin doesn't even care about the Bavarian pretzels and beer, so there you go.
Germans were so nice to us and Berlin was so young and thriving, I kept forgetting I was in Germany. I was surprised multiple times when I heard people speaking German because I thought I was at home. I thought it was Los Angeles. This is a place I would live in or visit more often, so my advice is to definitely travel here.
I have a common walk in downtown LA that I like to do and decided to put my common walk and food, drink and shopping spots on a map. In between this walking tour there are amazing views of downtown, the arts district, and less views of creepy-town USA spots and "pee-pee" corners (no joke). This is a fun walk that I bring my visitors when they want to see our favorite spots in LA. Have fun! See my notes below the map for secret tips!
A. Union Station: Beautiful, historic train station. Walk in the halls and stare at the ceiling. Don't forget to see the outside gardens too!
B. Olvera Street: This is literally the oldest place in Los Angeles and has cute Mexican markets, an old church, and even a cemetery. Pick up a sombrero for the rest of your walk, why not?
C. Burgerlords: Pick up the most fantastic vegan burger with vegan animal fries in Chinatown. Oh yea, there's Chinatown there too! They film a ton of shows and movies in this location, so enjoy.
D. Grand Park: Grand Park is a wonderful, newish park right in DTLA. They have tons of free events for music and food, so check out their site to see the schedule or you may just walk into a cool event by mistake.
E. Grand Central Market: Yes, this place is also historic and really cool now. Honestly, I didn't go here much until they changed up some of the restaurants for new ones like Ramen Hood (all vegan ramen!) and Golden Road (brewery with amazing pub pretzel, vegan mac&cheese, and perogis!) and the best coffee in LA, G&B (get their almond/macadamia nut milk sweetened latte - iced. You will be very happy.
F. Angel City Brewery: You just ate and got hopped up on coffee, so grab a beer too! Bring your dog and baby too apparently.
G. Shojin: Take a walk around Little Tokyo and the Arts District, and then you'll be starving and can head over to the best vegan Japanese restaurant ever. They have the best sushi and ramen, and don't forget dessert.. Pomegranate makes it, and it's fancy and good.
H. Poketo: Fine, I'll put some non-food stuff. This place is cute and you should go.
I. Van Leeuwen Artisanal Ice Cream: They have 10 flavors of bomb vegan ice cream and can even do sundaes. Enough said.
J. Stumptown Coffee: Portland's best coffee shop is in LA too. Now you don't have to quit your job and live the vagabond life, just go into far-off DTLA.
Rome, Italy has one of the best vegan bakeries hidden in a suburb. Fratelli Piermattei is owned by a family who had kids with allergies and decided to make a bakery for people with allergies (and vegans) to eat their amazing baked goods, cookies, cakes, and coffee. The guy who was working their that day (I think one of the brothers) doesn't speak a word of English, but that didn't stop him from bringing his Italian charm as we spoke with hand gestures and yelling out "Vegano!" and pointing to everything. To my joy, it was very inexpensive, super tasty, and the guy was super nice. I highly recommend checking this place out on your next trip!
Try their custard filled donuts, they were to die for too!
All of this for less than 10 euro...amazing.
Me with all the fantastic noms
Pasticceria senza latte e uova! Roma, Italy. and yes, that pastry in my hand is as big as my head.
Kindred is one of the most magical places I have ever visited. San Diego usually pales in comparison to the LA vegan scene, but literally no other restaurant tops the ambiance of this place. Plus the food and drinks and high-class, interesting, and really tasty!
There is so much to say about every detail of the decor of this restaurant before talking about the food. There is an overall Neverending Story theme, but it's also just kind of eclectic. There is a massive Wolf head with snakes wrapped around it in the back of the restaurant. There is even a table you can get right under his head! The checks come in old Choose Your Own Adventure books, the two-seat tables they have are custom designed so the table spins out so you can get in and it looks like a middle eastern theme (to me), the walls are all covered in pink wallpaper with intricate designs and the restaurant has these big garage-door style openings so everything is open to the fresh air. I loved this place!
Now...let's talk about food. To top off this beautiful restaurant, this is all vegan. They serve weekend brunch, lunch and dinner. I went to dinner and got the seitan skewers with chimichurri sauce which were to die for and as big as a full meal. For dinner I got the highly celebrated seared cauliflower stake with beet sauce - the other half got the Tempeh on Rye with homemade chips. For brunch we got the sweet crepe and the tofu scramble. Everything was super good, and if I had to choose I would pick dinner over brunch. I would also go back for the popcorn appetizer, the sandwiches, and the soy curl dishes.
Tempeh on Rye:
Seared Cauliflower Steak:
Deshima is a vegan, macrobiotic restaurant in Amsterdam that blew me away! They are a lunch place only, but close around 5pm, so we snuck in for the last items they had available. Even so, they had really healthy, amazing food. We had the seitan roles which looked like little empanadas and were extremely good. It was paired with two soups of the day, a miso/mushroom/Japanese soup and a pea soup. There were also these little crunchy bites made of (tempeh?) and a SUPER good blueberry and cream tart.
Now, if that whole meal sounds weird and thrown together, it was, but it all tasted amazing. The meal was super healthy, made me feel full but without a greasy/tired feeling. The prices were extremely good and the place was cute and pretty close to the center of town. I would definitely come back here again and again if I could!
However, Paris in 2016 was very different. Paris now has many options that are affordable, taste amazing, and aren't a sit-down dinner with wine and 40€ a plate. Parisians have also shifted their minds in some ways and we met many people who knew about vegans and even ate at these restaurants occasionally. I was pleasantly surprised with the progress France has made. Even in a very small town we visited with only 5,000 people hours from Paris, I found a Vegan Desserts book at a natural grocery store! The world is changing and Paris finally changed too. Here are some highlights from my latest trip!
The "La Marais" and "Bastille" areas of Paris is still the epicenter of vegan options. The favorite food of everyone on the trip was Hank Burger. The name sounds a bit boring, and I almost didn't go except I saw the cute bird logo and the tons of great reviews. This is a fast-casual type restaurant where you order at the counter and eat in their cute 2nd story loft. The burgers were the best I've ever had. The bread was fresh, the homemade vegenaise was amazing, and the burger flavors were unique and tasty. I had La Touriste, a burger that is a rotating option. At the time, it was a rocket (arugula) and fig option that was to die for. I had this three times during my week there. There was also the Le Petit Nerveux which had coriander and tortilla chips that was really good. This little place was open all day without closing 20x during the day, the staff was really nice and spoke English, and the price was very affordable with a burger, drink and side for only 12€!
I was dying to go to Soya after missing it on the trip in 2013. We finally got to it at lunch time even though it's pretty out of the way from central Paris. It was my understanding that it was a vegan place, but it's actually vegetarian and poorly marked. The board had a few specials for the day and one was lasagna, thinking this was an all vegan place, I ordered it and it was covered in cheese (an ingredient that wasn't listed). They were out of most of the dishes, so my only semi-good looking option was a place with raw vegetables, three kinds of hummus and bread. It was okay, it was fresh, it was more expensive, and I wish I went to Hank Burger! I heard brunch was the thing not to miss, so maybe try that instead. Be careful that items may not be marked correctly with vegetarian or vegan and ask before ordering.
Le Potager du Marais
We had a big party at Le Potager du Marais even though the place is tiny. It was a big hit and everyone loved their dishes. I made the reservation about an hour before, and they accommodated a table for 10 at 7pm. We also shared the place with Moby's party of 5. They let us have the table until closing which allowed us to sit, eat and drink for three hours. They have pretty great wine and serve a few seitan dishes that I liked. People liked the quinoa burger plate with a side of potatoes. The chocolate volcano cake was very good. The seitan bourguignon and the spinach lasagna were a bit funky. The seitan was chewy and the spinach lasagna had almost 90% spinach. I would suggest this place as a good place for a large party, good service, and some good dishes. Stay clear of some of the more funky dishes, and you should be okay.
My favorite Loving Hut in the world is still the Paris one. They still have their amazing dishes: the crepe and quiche. We had these probably four times during the trip and even brought two quiches on the plane ride back. Everyone loves these dishes, the prices are very reasonable, and the service is great too. Pick up some vegan chocolate croissants in a bag on the way out to get your croissant fix too!
Le Petit Nerveux
Here are my 6 things on how to do Rome, Italy:
Where to...(from a frugal vegan's point-of-view):
- Stay: Monti (or City Centre). Monti is the new hipster neighborhood of Rome, but we stayed near Termini station in the City Centre and were very happy with the transit, food, and sights all around us.
- Eat: So What? Ops! and Romeow. I can't pick one because there are so many amazing restaurants. Do So What! for a cheaper but spectacular meal, do Ops! for a buffet style, and do Romeow for the fine dining and kitties.
- Drink: Italian Wine. Everywhere has amazing wine, so you don't have to seek it out. Go to the above restaurants and ask for their wine pairing. Everyone knows their wine!
- Walk: Tiber River. This is one of the most beautiful walks. Watch above for the lush trees, look over the river to the Vatican, and watch a sunset on the many bridges. Take a walk into a random neighborhood and explore!
- Shop: NaturaSi. This was a natural grocery store that had everything we needed. We tried going to the vegan shops, but they had short hours. Great for picnic shopping when heading to Villa Borghese.
- See/do: Definitely see the kitty ruins (Torre Argentina), get a pistachio soy gelato from almost anywhere, and rent a Vespa to risk your life (gleefully) through the city streets or the ancient street Apian Way with My Vespa Tours. Vegan in Italy posts...
For a longer review of Italy, check out my other posts: Vegan in Italy
Now for Rome, this is one of my favorite cities of all time. It looks like Paris a lot of the time with a river running through the city and beautiful architecture scattered through tight alleyways and historic sites and ruins everywhere you turn. Except, the people are much nicer to strangers and travelers. Which is pretty fantastic. Even the ones who speak pretty terrible Italian (us). The main city has tons of English speaking people, but if you steps about 2 feet away from the main Roman streets, some people don't know a word of English, but will work with your hand signals and laughs :). For most of these restaurants Sunday, Monday and Tuesday many restaurants are closed. Call ahead to make sure they are open because everyone is on 'Italian time' which is not as strict as opening/closing days and hours in America. Make a reservation to be safe too! Finally, Italy doesn't really use Yelp, so check Foursquare and Trip Advisor's websites to find different restaurants and the hours are all WRONG on these sites and they all conflict to make it even more fun, so be careful with that!
I had some of the best food ever here, with tons of surprising finds. Here are my top 5 restaurant picks from Rome:
- Romeow Cat Bistrot
- So What?
- Il Margutta Ristorarte
- Slow Food
Things NOT to see, IMHO:
- Italian Pavilion - This usually has huge lines, so don't bother if it's huge. At the end of the night around 8pm (20:00) you can walk in. Enjoy the "chaos room" wth?
- U.S. - Sponsored by Walgreens. Not super exciting.
- China - Semi-interesting, but kind of propaganday
- The clusters (fruit & veg, chocolate, etc.) - this is where they put the smaller country pavilions where not much is going on. It's worth a little look, but most of them just have products that they sell in their country, and it doesn't have anything to do with a cluster of food types. Sri Lanka = fruit & veg?
Shanghai 2011 VS. Milan 2015 Expo
Why Milan is not as good as the Shanghai world expo
Shanghai had local cultural ambassadors for each pavilion so you could meet someone from every country. This fair doesn't have that, and 99% of all people are from Italy. There are a few exceptions like Japan and France, so that was a nice touch.
Why Milan is better than the Shanghai world expo
This expo was a lot better than Shanghai because there were a lot less people. Shanghai had 500,000 people a day, and this was a LOT less than that. It's still busy, but at least you can see most of the exhibits in a few days without 7 hour lines to see a big screen TV. Also, there is so much good food to try here, so it beats out the Chinese expo for tastiness too.
- · Seitan sausage and kale dish
- · Cheesy lasagna
- · Eggplant lasagna
- · Samosas
- · Thinly sliced potatoes
We arrived at the Milan World Expo 2015 yesterday. Compared to the Shanghai World Expo in 2011, the park is less crazy and the fair is a bit less over-the-top - but that's not a bad thing. There are no crazy lines on the weekdays at least, and at night the air is cool and the crowds go away so there are no lines and you can basically walk into any exhibit.
On Monday, we went to the Coffee cluster and toured the Illy sponsored area. Next, the UK pavilion which had a globe structure with lights that showed live activity of a bee hive in England. The Austria pavilion was a forest with cool air, but not much to see. Germany was the best of the day with special cards that you could walk around with and put under different projectors to get language-appropriate videos and information. The American pavilion was much better than in Shanghai because it was *less* sponsored, but the food truck area that had country music was just a bit embarrassing and the garden wall is not built yet..
For food, there was a massive variety. Every country has their own food, along with sponsored areas like Eataly and Illy, then there are "clusters" which show off different important food groups from fruit to chocolate. Eataly had amazing Farinata (a chickpea and oil pancake), Illy had amazing Marocchino, there was gyoza, and quinoa bowls too.
Where to...(from a frugal vegan's point-of-view):
- Stay: Le Marais. This is where all the vegan food and fun is. However, I stayed at a cheap Air BNB in the 13th arrondissement and it was a perfect spot that was pretty close to everything too.
- Eat: Loving Hut. Eat the crepe from Loving Hut! Shop in their little store for some vegan croissants and chocolate sauce so you don't die from walking by the million patisseries you can't eat at..
- Drink: M.O.B. Go to MOB to get a bite to eat, feel like you're in America again with vegan burgers and fries, and grab a beer. Sit outside on the second-story outdoor seating with a view of the Seine.
- Walk: The Seine. Walk along the Seine river from Le Marais to the Eiffel Tower. This is a long, but beautiful walk where you will see the core of Paris.
- Shop: Naturulia. This is a natural grocery store with some interesting food you can cook at home. But of course, don't miss the daily farmers markets that are to die for and have a picnic.
- See/do: Walk, again! Stroll through the 5th, 6th and 7th arrondissments. Walk everywhere and take in the beautiful architecture and lights at night. Check out Sorbonne, shop a little, and grab a bite to eat.
Vegan in Paris blogs
In order of amazingnes:
The sausage/biscuit breakfast bowl: This consists of all homemade ingredients including a biscuit, sausage, and gravy. It was extremely good and there is nothing else like it.
Soft serve ice cream banana split: I got the banana split with chocolate/vanilla ice cream, marshmallows, and caramel. This was the best dessert and ice cream I've ever had!
Baked goods: everything is good here from the savory to the sweet. We had the tempeh broccoli quiche, tempeh bacon scone, and some type of nutty donut. Everything was seriously amazing again.
I've been to vegan bakeries everywhere, but they just do it better here. Plus, when you're on Alberta street, check out the cute stores and other delights in the neighborhood. Next door is the grilled cheese truck that makes homemade cashew cheese grilled cheese and mac and cheese that is also worth the trip from LA!
I had been to some disappointing and expensive restaurants in Paris, with rude or just uninterested waiters. I had also been sad to hear that I had to walk by hundreds of creperies without eating anything!
Luckily, Loving Hut came to our rescue with the amazing crepe dish they offer. It was so good, and I miss it so much! The waitress was very nice and spoke a little English. They also sold vegan croissants in a bag, vegan dark chocolate spread, books, and more. I bought up everything and ate that the rest of the trip to curb my cravings for sweets.
I highly recommend trying this Loving Hut out, you won't regret eating the crepe!
Hmm. However, I had a completely different experience here.
I rushed over to the restaurant knowing they have very odd French hours. Breakfast ends at 11 and lunch starts at noon. I wanted breakfast with loads of croissants, so I arrived late, but on time at 10:50. I ask them if they have the croissants and they said they got rid of anything not organic including all pastries! Very sad indeed. We were not able to order lunch (which is a better menu) so we looked through breakfast. The waiter took 20 minutes to come back (at 11:10) and took our order for breakfast. He came back short after to tell us that the chef denied our request to eat (in an empty restaurant!) and we could no longer order anything at all until 12! He then simply walked away without caring that he had something to do with this... We waited another hour and ordered lunch, because there was no point in finding some other restaurant now, and finally ordered our food.
I got the portobello sandwich and my boyfriend got the seitan dish. The portobello was just average and the seitan was fairly good. But nothing to write more about. It was $60 euros for two meals and coffee. Kind of crazy prices and no empathy from any waiters on our starving-ness. I wouldn't go back here, but the food was ok. There are not too many vegan only spots in Paris that are real restaurants, so that's why it still gets a 3 star. Also, it is common service in France, so it wasn't too out of the ordinary.
Loire Valley - Blois, Chambord, Amboise, Tours
Our trip to France started with a weekend trip to the Loire valley. The Loire is 100 miles south of Paris, full of chateaus (castles), villages, wine, and quiet landscapes. Lucas' childhood friend Nicolas planned our whole trip and was our tour guide and driver in the cities, so it was easy to jump in the car and go. We left for America on Thursday, August 29th, arrived in France on August 30th, and spent Friday through Sunday, September 1st in the Loire.
...But before I talk about that, I have to talk about how we started our 2nd European trip. We flew Air France on the A380 massive, 2-decker plane. This time they got the message of our special meals. The food was odd and one meal had two pieces of cold, hard tofu - so I will just say, try to avoid the food if at all possible when flying if you're vegetarian/vegan. The stewardess brought around a bucket (and I really mean bucket) of small French baguettes and even ice cream at 10pm. Very odd indeed, but that was just a peek into the French food for me.
We arrived at CDG at 11am where Nicolas was waiting with a sign with our names. We drove to Paris to find our Air Bnb apartment in a beautiful and perfectly located area in the 5th arr. (near the Latin Quarter and the Pantheon). We quickly got inside to take a look, grab the key and clean up. The pictures of the room online made it look really MUCH larger than I thought. It was the cramped French living I had heard about, bien sur. It was a loft layout with the bed up this ladder/step/bookcase, and the "couch" I thought I saw in the photo was actually a pillow sitting on the ground! The bathroom was honestly a glorified closet that somehow shoved a shower, sink and toilet in somehow? Very odd, but cute, secure, and was not inviting me to spend my days lounging around the house. It forced us outside, which was perfect for our stay in Paris.
We drove to Blois, a city in the Loire Valley first. We were both extremely tired, and I fell asleep on the way. It was only a 2 hour ride, and when we got there, we got to see the city at dusk, walk by Chateau de Blois, and watch people drink wine in the parks. We also got our first sight of the Loire river that separated each city with its massive width, but calm waters. We strolled around the city before driving to our final stop for the night at the bed and breakfast near Chateau de Chambord.
The house was in what seemed like the middle of nowhere. There was NO sounds of the city and as we arrive the sun was setting so we would soon see no light pollution and only stars. It was refreshing and almost shocking to hear and see nothing at night. The owner was very nice and spoke English, she lead us into our room and we came out to eat dinner. There were two other couples staying there and eating dinner with us. One couple was an old French couple, and the other was an older Dutch couple. There were three languages that would be constantly spoken and translated and mistranslated at the dinner the entire night. We ate snacks and wine on empty stomachs and waited for our "special" meal made for us, that eventually only amounted to potatoes and vegetables, more bread, and more wine.
The table got confusing as I would wait patiently for the conversation to be translated for me. I would misinterpret what I thought they were talking about in French, and the Dutch man (who looked like Asterix the Viking cartoon to everyone) and I would sit smiling at each other saying we did not understand a thing.
As the chicken came out and the table counted not enough food, and as we did not reach for chicken, the confused looks got even stronger. The conversation turned to only ask questions about our diet, which I hoped to avoid for my boredom and annoyance would kill me. The questioning lasted two hours on and off, and luckily the French got more carried away with talking about how the government, taxes, and big business would take over their lives rather than how vegans are weird. This is when I still had a taste for bread, but I would not tire of the wine.
The hosts suggested we take a ride to see the wild animals running through the forest and the illuminated castle at night. We were tired, but not too tired to see wild boar running through the streets. The warned us not to hit and kill any boar because the vegetarians may be upset. These lame jokes would continue through the French trip, but would luckily stop in Scandinavia.
We drove the car through the pitch black road filled with forest on either side. In less than 30 seconds we saw a wild boar running across the street followed by a wild deer who stopped to stare. The castle lay ahead about 2 miles and we took photos and roamed around the pitch black trees that lead up to the entrance. It was eerie to be out where there were no sounds or sights, only the sound of your shoes and the cold air on our necks with the big dipper shining the only light on our path.
We headed back and slept super well after a very long day.
The next morning was our first day in the Loire. We ate about 8 small baguettes with homemade jams of rhubarb, maribels, apricot and more. We drank our coffee, watched the beautiful scenery out the floor-to-ceiling windows, and went to Chambord by day.
The three of us toured the castle, an old hunting castle, and strolled around the large parks and moat. It was a little overcast, but great weather. We sat together and ate a picnic lunch of baguette sandwiches and fruit. We tried to roam through the forest but mostly hit into thorny trees and spiders.
We drove to Amboise for dinner, very disappointing selections of “vegetarian salads” that had fish (I guess French think that seafood (they call ‘fruits de mer’ fruit of the sea, is actually a fruit?). There was one natural grocery store tucked away, but she assured us that the search would be fruitless. After roaming the cobblestone streets, seeing the Loire river again, and we waited hoping hopelessly for a Chinese restaurant to have anything except pork.
There was a great ice cream shop that had chocolate sorbet that was spectacular. But to get the ice cream, I had to use my first bit of French. Annoyed and unamused, they started aggressively pointing to the size of the ice cream I wanted to spoke in English. My first bit of European customer service was quite stereotypical.
After realizing our expectations of Amboise food were correct, only meat in the gross Chinese buffet, we ate flat, tasteless pizza at a random restaurant on the main street – with beer. Sadly, my expectations of France were being realized, but I was still open for them to surprise me and try harder with my French.
That night, we spent another night viewing a castle. This time it was a special event where they play music and open the area for only a couple tourists at night. It was at Chateau de Chenonceau. After playing around in the dark forest full of buggies, spiders, and classical music, we slept at a common hotel, Ibis and fell dead asleep again.
The third day in Loire was spent on a Sunday in Europe – which I didn’t realize is when the Europeans hide in their houses all day and every store shuts down. Is it from a super religious past? Or a farming ritual? Whatever it is, it is very annoying to spend the day where the city is a complete ghost town! We visited Tours for our last day, but to our surprise, nothing was open. Nothing at all. The only food options I left for the last day were closed, all of the shopping, the castles, etc. Tumbleweeds flew down the streets basically. Anyway, we walked the city and found the one square where tourists hung out and ate ice cream, and left soon after. We went back to Nicolas’ house for dinner instead, and then he dropped us off in Paris by 10pm.
Our trip starts in the Loire Valley (100 miles south of Paris) where there are NO English reviews of vegan food. I'm jumping blindly, and the options are very slim. However, I will either come out writing about our experience, or show up dead from starvation - stay tuned! The Loire is known for beautiful, romantic castles and also wine! So we will have some picturesque photos and have great
The next stop is Paris for the next couple days. We will stop by the obligatory Loving Hut, Gentle Gourmet, MOB, Maoz, and much more. In between trips to the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre, we will be walking the city looking for great markets, neighborhoods, and restaurants, and meeting the local people.
We then fly off to Stockholm to visit Lucas' friend, Kris. I'm not sure what to expect in Stockholm at all. They claim to be the most veg-friendly city in Europe? We'll see if that rumor is true. They drink more more than anyone in the world (behind Finnland), so instead of drinking wine at breakfast, lunch and dinner, like in France, we will be wired off fika (coffee). We can relax on some comfortable Malms at Ikea after the caffeine crash.
Finally, we'll be in Oslo for a quick trip to my homeland. I was hoping to visit my long-lost relatives, but I will most likely seeing where the great grandparents are from without any contacts. I'm hoping to spot some wildlife and head down to Drobak to where my family is from to see where Santa Clause came from. Food will most likely be tough, but we'll be in the big city - and some curry will probably get us by as usual.
I'm studying my French, so bon chance to me and my weak French skills navigating the meat loving Frenchie population. If I don't get the stink eye from a waiter, I will be very disappointed.
- Columbus, OH
- Waikiki, HI
- Orange, CA
- Tustin, CA
- Alhambra, CA
- Claremont, CA
- New York, NY
- Portland, OR
- Orlando, FL
- Huntington Beach, CA
- San Jose, CA
- San Diego, CA
- San Francisco, CA
- Pittsburgh, PA
- Arlington, TX
- Brea, CA
- Paris, FR
- Shanghai, China
- Beijing, China
- Amsterdam, Netherlands
- Glendale, AZ
I'll be writing about the amazing sites, and reviewing the vegan food adventures in each city we visit. We'll be staying at people's houses, so we can really feel the essence of each city and the way people live.
I got there Thursday morning and got breakfast at Green Earth Cafe and Bakery. I got a tempeh rueben that was just okay. I then headed to Cinnaholic where they have an all vegan "cinnabon" with deluxe toppings. The worker was really nice so he gave me advice on which restaurants to go to for the weekend and customers gave me tips on the best coffee places in Oakland and SF.
Friday was my day in San Fran and I couldn't stop smiling as roamed the streets in Embarcadero, SOMA, and Market street. The city was vibrant and full of life as it hit lunch time in the financial district. I grabbed my vegan donut and soy cappuccino and met street artists and watched the bay. I people watched to see how people live in SF. I love the chaos of city life, seeing diverse people and backgrounds come together for a picnic on the lawn. I walked from Embarcadero to Powell street and came back to Berkeley.
We saw the city by car which is not my favorite mode of transportation there, but it was interesting to finally see Marin county and the lush forests of the north. We drove my the palace of fine arts which is beautiful and a place I must go when Lucas is with me next time. Friday night we went clubbing where lots of alcohol was consumed but someone we successfully got home on the drunk bus to Berkeley.
Saturday was the graduation where I got some massive sun burns, but decided to go clubbing one more time. This was not as fun because of the crowd. Everyone was too dressed up and everyone was VIP. The guys were creepers and wanted to grab any girl that was in an arms reach away.
Sunday was the last day where we relaxed, talked, and hung out. I felt more at home in Berkeley and San Francisco than I ever do here, and it must be on the horizon for my next place to live and explore.
First, we traveled to Loving Hut. I was very excited to see Loving Hut in China since we eat at Loving Hut in California and it made us feel at home. The food was completely different than the menu they serve at our local Loving Hut, but I absolutely loved the home-made dumplings. The prices were incredible for the quality of food and we discovered every worker was a volunteer which made the food cheaper. We spoke with the owner, Xu, who explained how the Chinese define vegan which they call "pure vegetarian". He explained that many Buddhists who eat vegan, still consume milk because it is not a life like an animal or an egg. That meant that some "pure vegetarian" restaurants may still have milk options, so we had to clearly state that we did not want milk with our dishes.
At Annamaya, we met Kazu, the owner, and were able to eat the freshest food in Shanghai. Her recipes were fresh, unique, and more akin to our tastes. The mustard pumpkin salad was extremely good and it was refreshing to have fresh vegetables since all the other meals we had were cooked or fried.
JuJuBe Tree (Vegetarian Lifestyle) was our absolute favorite restaurants in China, and still one of the best vegan restaurants I've ever tried. This restaurant serves gourmet meals, is very clean, has a great atmosphere, fancy food presentation, and fresh food and juices. We had amazing dumplings, puffed "chicken" balls, "crab" soup with glass noodles, "short ribs", and eggplant. We loved it so much we ate hear three times in three days!
Overall, my experience as a traveling vegan in Shanghai was a great one. With a few Chinese phrases we were able to find some amazing meals, meet great people, and explore Chinese cuisine without eating animals. Vegetarian dishes are more common in basic Chinese restaurants with the variety of mushrooms, tofu, and vegetable dishes. Vegan restaurants were not too hard to come by and we even found one in the World Expo (Godly). Having vegan Buddhists and more vegetable main dishes made it sometimes easier to eat vegan than in America.
Yucatan, Mexico - For the Mayan ruins
Paris, France - Baguettes, music festivals, Frenchies
Toronto or Vancouver, Canada - America, but not.
Portland, Oregon - Hippies, "vegan city of the US", and Portlandia
Hong Kong - China, but not.
Machu Picchu - Wonder of the world, similar to Pikachu
Our trip was mostly helping around the house, cooking, cleaning and visiting. On the cooler days we ventured out to the park and saw the Metropolitan museum. There was the Alexander McQueen exhibit that was hoppin' with lines around the building, but we went for a more modest ancient Egypt trip. Our favorite was the quiet and dark area of nighttime photography. I love lights at night in old photographs, so this was the winner.
We took a small boat ride in the river and took some pictures where I could finally see Central Park with leaves. It was glorious with the lush, green plants and trees surrounding every part of the park. There were many birds I never see in California so I scanned the way for the American Robin and other bright colored winged friends. We also found Turtle Pond which was filled with medium sized snap turtles and one monster sized turtle in the pond cooling off and chasing each other. We even saw three on a log leaning on each other for some warmth in the sun.
The best part of the trip was getting a phone call from Southern California Edison for a phone interview. It was unexpected and eventually has lead to my new job as Process Engineer! I'm absolutely excited to be apart of an energy company and especially doing what I want and love to do! I have some free time off between jobs right now, so I doubled up on school for five weeks and I'm anxiously awaiting my first day in July!
[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="314" caption="Boat Ride"][/caption]
We started out at 9am outside of downtown Beijing and traveled 150km to our site. Lucas' two sisters joined us for their first time seeing the unrestored wall (that they can remember). It was pouring rain that day and Chinese traffic was as fun as ever, but we made it to Jinshanling around noon nonetheless. The way out through the mountain villages was beautiful. We took a sort of long way, but we were able to see the mountains and trees sprawling on both sides of the street for miles. The leaves were changing colors so the bright reds, yellows and greens were bursting out everywhere.
There were only about 10 cars in the parking lot when we arrived and basically nobody outside at all except for the vendors to sell souvenirs. We paid our 150 quai for four and we started our jouney up to the first tower in our sight. We were followed by old people who lived in the village and wanted to sell us bags, but after that small stretch of human activity we were completely isolated.
The wall was spectacular and zig-zagged through the land as far as we could see. We first walked through the restored part of the wall that seemed old and crumbled to us at first, but was easy to maneuver. Up and down steep stairs, and through dark halls in the towers, we reached the places where the battling would occur, where the Chinese warriors would set up obstacles for their opponents and where they could shoot arrows from about anywhere on the wall through small holes at arm level.
We met a man that claimed to be the best Great Wall photographer, and he was. We bought his book and had him sign it for us. The pictures were stunning and I knew why everyone goes to Jinshanling to photograph now. We took some photos of our own and hiked for an hour or two before we reached the wild wall. The unrestored wall from the 1300's was now before us and it was completely obvious at our first glance. There was a two story tower that had completely collapsed and was in ruins. Parts of the wall had been completely crushed and had fallen down the mountain to reveal a large cliff that we could easily fall down. This part of the wall was more of a reddish/brown color and reminded me of the rocks and mountains that held up the entire wall. You could see the craftsmanship of 700 years ago and imagine what material they had and what they would have seen so long ago (minus the highway in the back). Some people were walking through the forest and had a donkey with them. It seemed like we were back in the old days when the wall was being built.
Our only way down was a muddy path that took 30 minutes to hike down. There was donkey manuer and no sign of where we were going except for the dirt path that we had to trust. Small farms of corn and lettuce lay down in the valley with small cottages for the villagers. It didn't seem like we were in the 21st century by far now. We reached the small parking lot and headed out of Jinshanling. The sun came out for the first time in 2 weeks for me, and the sky had beautiful clouds surrounding the fall leaves on the forest of trees around us.
[caption id="attachment_314" align="aligncenter" width="600" caption="Robotos at the Great Wall"][/caption]
The first day out in Beijing we went to the Forbidden City. After watching the movie of The Last Emperor, I had a newfound respect for the centuries old traditions, but especially the final days of Pu Yi. As a three year old boy he was taken to the Forbidden City to never see the outside walls until the crown was taken away by warlords when he was a young teenager, he eventually became a gardener at the Forbidden City until his death, and fun other facts in between.
The city was much bigger than I expected, it seemed to go on forever, with many barrier walls and living quarters for the workers and servants of the emperor in those days. We got to see the lavish life that the emperors lived with the basic food utensils, plates and bowls they used. The outdoor courtyards were beautiful, but also were covered in stone so there was a lack of green and barely any gardens to speak of except for one in the far back. This trip was cut short by me getting sick from our lunch at Loving Hut. Some sort of bug got me bad and I had a fun tour of the bathrooms of Beijing from the Forbidden City to hutongs nearby. After that experience we were feeling weary and tried to find some clean food, but I was hesitant to eat that whole night.
Instead, we walked the streets and ventured into one of the nearby hutongs, or the very old living quarters for the poorer Chinese. Winding through dark alleys inside their streets, we saw a man peeing on a wall who pretended to try to pee on us. The next sight was a large door with the character "Condemned" on the front. I peeked through the crack in the door to see a vacant lot with broken bricks. I wondered if the rest of the hutong would be destroyed next.
We walked the streets in front of the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square. The new large Opera House was located around there as well as a humongous shopping area that literally went forever in every direction and sold the usual Chinese souvenirs and food. We headed home tired and feeling a bit sick for the next day.
The next day we woke up an went to the Temple of Heaven. This spot was much more beautiful than the Forbidden City, and had rich history for the country as well. The emperor would pray to god for rain, a good harvest and would sacrifice animals to make sure that the country was given enough food for the season. The place was jam packed with tourists, and most of the place was redone as the Forbidden City had been redone, but it was still beautiful and the the blessing quarters were on display.
[caption id="attachment_310" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Temple of Heaven Gardens"][/caption]
[caption id="attachment_306" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Us at the Forbidden City"][/caption]
The best thing about this restaurant was the employee we met. He spoke perfect English and talked about their food, their philosophy, the location and other restaurants to try (he recommended JuJuBe Tree because it is about the only restaurant except their's that is actually vegan, thanks Xu!)
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="384" caption="Sweet and Sour Chick'n"][/caption]
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="384" caption="Faux Meat Dumplings"][/caption]
The second time we went, we went for Lucas' birthday dinner so we invited a couple friends who are all omnivores. They all enjoyed it very much too because of the flavor and mock meats. On top of our first favorite dishes we ordered some sort ribs, spicy potatoes, magic mushrooms, stacked eggplant, stuffed cucumbers and spinach soup. The crab and chicken still were our top contenders, but this time the eggplant stole the night. The plate was filled with thinly sliced eggplant covered in a sweet barbecue type sauce and chunks of tofu. This had a great flavor and was something I have never tried before. The third and final trip here (at the other location near NanJing Lu) we ordered some friend lotus root stuffed with faux meat and a side of bruchetta, fried seaweed rolls, sushi, faux chicken skewers, and a cold faux meat with a brown sauce. The lotus roots were unique and interesting with the stuffing and the sides of tomatoes in the bruchetta, but the meal got a little greasy for us by the end. Many Chinese dishes are not raw and this place is no different.
On top of all this they have a side shop that sells organic and healthy foods including brown rice (hard to find in China), organic beans, tasty pumpkin nut clusters, books and bags and gifts made by underprivileged people in China.
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="384" caption="Vegan Crab"][/caption]
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="384" caption="Chicken Balls with Puffed Rice"][/caption]
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="256" caption="Eggplant Stacks"][/caption]
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="384" caption="Chicken Skewers"][/caption]
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="384" caption="Vegan Sushi"][/caption]
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="384" caption="Veggie Dumplings"][/caption]
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="384" caption="Stuffed Lotus Root"][/caption]
We found out our seats were not together, but Lucas got a person to move so we could squeeze in together in two seats facing two other seats that face each other. The seats were made of wood with a small fabric covering and the leg room was non-existent. The first thing we smelled was a man smoking right next to the no-smoking sign. The rest of the trip was smells of noodle bowls, smoke and sounds of loud people speaking on their phones and constant random ring-tones.
We slept tossing and turning as our legs and butts fell asleep and we were woken up by the randomness as I said above. We arrived in Beijing 12 hours later to see more mayhem and more pollution than I thought was possible. Beijing beat Shanghai on pollution 10-fold. The crowds in front were full of smoking, loud people that only wanted to push each other over. I pushed through with my suitcase as I saw our ride and knocked a lady's luggage everywhere. I am so used to being the native Shanghainese that I pushed on with all common courtesy behind me.
We drove to Lucas' dad's house which is about 30 minutes out of the city. The city locked us in a gray bubble that wouldn't let the sky bust through. I felt like the whole world was left behind and only 1/2 a mile in every direction existed for the moment.
We stopped at an Indian restaurant for a moment due to our starvation from the train. We were tricked into eating some paneer from a man at the restaurant who said it was all "pure vegetarian" without milk or eggs, I guess cheese isn't made of milk now? We got Jason from school and went to the house to watch him and help him study some English.
Saturday, we went shopping and then to our new favorite vegan restaurant Vegetarian Lifestyle/Ju Ju Be! It was gourmet vegan food Chinese style and it was so good that we wanted to bring the chef home with us. I will post a review after this. Next, we went to a party at The Apartment which is a club in Shanghai. It was majorly crowded and the whole place was a giant smoke ball and there were way too many obnoxious foreigners there. We did meet some interesting friends of Ali's though. They were mostly all different foreigner travelers who lived and worked in Shanghai now. They all have a different story of how they arrived in China and why they stayed. I would definitely not be able to stay here longer than the two weeks, but they were chasing careers, a different life or girlfriends to come here and decided to make it long term.
We celebrated Lucas' birthday with our 10 vegan cakes from New Age Veggie. They were pretty amazing and a big hit at the party. People we didn't even know were grabbing spoons and jumping in on the black forest cake or chocolate mousse. We left there around 12 and got to bed for another day at the expo..
Sunday I cooked vegan stir fry for a bbq at Ali and Lucas' friend Deter. We had tons of food that was not Chinese but had lots of veggies. We had hummus and bread, fruit, Chinese coke and beer and coffee. We headed next door to Deter's house for a relaxing sit in the backyard and then headed to the expo.
This day, we saw the Broad pavilion which is the most sustainable building in the world. It was built in one day and is extremely efficient. The building had a room with the cleanest air in the world, but of course no one was allowed in because we all would ruin that title. We looked at simple devices that created a better household including triple paned glass, air purifiers, and styrofoam insulation.
Monday, we got to the train station to buy our tickets and after a confusing time finding the ticket machine, everything was sold out. Lucas went looking for other options like China Easter Air, but only scalpers were offering train tickets and harassing us for most likely fake tickets. We went to the ticket counter for a billion people in line and finally got to the window to find that the self-ticketing was wrong and they had a train the next night - but they didn't take credit card as the information center advised earlier. We immediately jumped out of line to get some cash before the train ticket was gone again! We ran around the city trying to find the Plus symbol for our card. After many attempts and running into crazy traffic we found a bank and got back to the front and finally retrieved our night train pass (about $26 each for a hard chair). The only bad thing is it will be 13 hours on a hard seat, with smoking rural people that smell a little funky.
We headed off to the expo for a couple hours, and since this was Lucas' birthday we got to see some more green buildings and the pavilion of future. After some amazing animated videos of future life living in space or under water with awesome electronic dance music and ideologies, we headed to Ju Ju Be again for a birthday dinner. We met up with Ali, Kelly and Pierre for a huge dinner of fake crab cakes, spare ribs, eggplant stacks, cucumber tuna appetizers and more. We ended the night with an expensive bottle of Champagne and three Frenchies in one restaurant together.
Now, it is Tuesday, our official last day and we will see the Yu Gardens, the Bund and finish the expo. See you in Beijing!
The staff was really nice but did not speak much English. This was only troublesome when we wanted to make sure that the dishes didn't have certain ingredients. They do not serve soy milk like many places in China, so that is not an option if you are coffee drink BTW. We ordered a mushroom dish with King Mushrooms, it was delicately displayed and was just ok, kind of squishy..not like the other mushroom dish I had at the Shanghainese restaurant. We also ordered these friend long spring rolls with mushrooms inside and fake shrimp dumplings, both of these were really good and really cheap (there was a lunch special and the prices were even cheaper, check with the waitress). We ordered the pumpkin curry rice dish that was pretty good but but was regular fried rice inside so it was so-so. The last meal was veggie lettuce wraps which was my favorite part. It had fake meat cubes and diced fruit with a sweet sauce. It was really good and I will definitely get that again when we go back tonight! We drank the bitter fruit drink and a rose iced tea. Both were pretty tasty and everything was displayed really fancy.
We were stuffed but kept looking at the vegan deserts. Some of the cakes have no cheese or milk and that is what I will be going back for. I think they are popular because people were running in and buying all of them up as we ate. They look like professional cakes and delicate. Tiramisu, opera cake, strawberry cake etc. were there..I will update when I taste them for our birthday party tonight.
All together I rate this place a 4 star. It is vegetarian, fancy, close to all the shopping, clean and friendly. You can try a huge array of traditional Chinese dishes in the fake form some looked weird like fake goose liver or pork fist, but some looked great like veggie burgers, hot pot, fried rice and regular fake chicken, pork or beef with a sauce.
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="384" caption="Mushroom Rolls"][/caption]
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="384" caption="Faux Shrimp Dumplings"][/caption]
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="384" caption="King Mushroom Dish"][/caption]
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="256" caption="Bitter Fruit Juice"][/caption]
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="384" caption="Lettuce Wraps"][/caption]
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="384" caption="Vegan Chocolate Brownie"]
We waited 3 hours and finally got the reservation! It said we had to go to the Chinese pavilion at 8:30pm and we got up a 3am...hmmm, tiring day ahead. Since we could not get into China, we headed to the theme pavilion next to it called Life Sunshine Pavilion (great names here). We figured out that these theme pavilions were usually a lot better than the country pavilions and were less about propaganda and more about great technologies and felt more like a museum.
One of our favorite places in the Life Sunshine pavilion was a story of six families all over the world and their different lives in the city. One from Shanghai, Netherlands, Australia, America, Africa and South America. Their different cultures and ways of living were videoed and statistics of life in those cities were shown. Numbers on fresh water, working hours and if they lock their door plus a ton more were shown. Very interesting for us indeed. They had wax figures of all the families and in front of the white family from Arizona a Chinese woman grabbed me and took a picture..I was now apart of this exhibit. Of course people stared, but now people were looking at me like I was apart of the American family and they learned more about me as I learned about the Shanghai family. Another woman asked for a picture with me and spoke in Chinese about my height (Lucas told me later) and gave me her 2 year old to hold. A bunch of people took pictures as I held this little boy with a bald head and bangs. Weird and hilarious feeling.
After, we went straight to Zone C, the European zone to try our luck at cutting lines. With a passport from the country you can go in VIP, so we got to get into France with Lucas. France was extremely disappointing, maybe one of the worst big pavilions. It was a bunch of projected images of France like I was watching a tv show about historical sites in Paris. The theme was about the senses (even though it was supposed to be a green theme like the rest of the expo). You got to smell coffee and pastries in one part, touch tiles from France in another (lame), see pictures of the Eiffel Tower (super lame), go past a random Louis Vitton ad campaign and you could play these video games where you popped bubbles, which was fun but gave France a grade of FAIL. They also had a cafe that served meaty meat dishes and wine. A glass of wine was over $100!, which would be probably a month on a Chinese salary.
We met a guy on our first night that was a German working at the German pavilion. He let us go VIP into Germany and that was very much appreciated because the line was horrendous here too. Germany was one of our favorite pavilions because it stuck to the green theme and was interactive. They showcased world changing green technologies from Germany while also having fun and letting people look like a gnome, play with snow-globes and play a puzzle game with augmented reality. The main attractions was this massive hanging ball in a three story room. It used the energy of people's voices to swing around in circles and side to side, definitely pre-programmed but the idea and show were amazing.
Since we were master line avoiders we tried our luck at the foreigner card. I headed to the Norway pavilion and told them I was Norweign (one quarter Norweign counts!) and they let me in without a passport! Not too interesting of a pavilion, but we skipped another wait..
We tried that at Ireland (about 1/4 Irish works too!) but the evil Chinese man in the green jacket pretended to look Irish wanted my Irish passport. This didn't work at Canada either! I was trying the white girl card - that I could look like most of these countries, but it wasn't working anymore! Sri Lanka worked for Lucas so we got a couple, so far so good.
Next was the USA pavilion. I got VIP for my passport and it was another terrible line. This place was one huge corporate ad campaign. Freaky American propaganda, ad campaigns (brought to you by Pepsi, Chevron, Johnson & Johnson, P&G etc.) and was pretty bare. We found out later from a staff member that America almost didn't even come to the expo, and couldn't ask the government for 100 million dollars for a temp building standing for 6 months with no profit in China, and that made perfect sense. They decided to come to the expo last minute and were completely funded by corporations..good for the American economy, bad for the expo. The staff member was really knowledgable and helped us pick a couple other pavilions to go to in the next few days...
By now it was about 6pm and we were pooped. Being shoved around by the Chinese, smelling dirty trash and hearing the spitting sound throughout the whole speech from Obama in the US pavilion was a bit tiring for me. We met another local Chinese and found out more about the Chinese pavilion. We did not have to wait for our time at 8pm and the line is usually 2 hours with the reservation! We ran down there for our first peak at our favorite pavilion. The outside is so beautiful and enormous. The bright red exterior and inverted shape fascinates me still and we continued to photograph it from every angle.
The Chinese pavilion was pretty amazing, the biggest attraction was this massive scroll of ancient Kaifeng showing the Qing Ming Festival (the Chinese Mona Lisa) but it was animated on a large screen hundreds of feet long, twisting through this room. It was really amazing and seemed real. There was also a weird ride that was completely over my head because they didn't translate it. It seemed like a winter-wonderland in the clouds and I cannot understand what the hell that had to do with anything about China or the green theme, but it was entertaining and scary - rolling backwards towards the other cars is not fun.
We headed down stairs viewing painting from young Chinese children that looked like masterpieces and the last part was a waterfall that spelled out Chinese characters. The scroll was the main attraction and very cool to look at and I'm glad I got to see this exhibit from the inside. Tired and feeling dead, we headed home by taxi and knocked out like every other night!
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="533" caption="China Pavilion!"][/caption]
We met up at Annamaya, a vegan restaurant walking distance from Ali's place on Fuxing Lu (review below). We met another women entrepreneur, Kazu, and we learned a ton about what is not available here when it concerns items I cook with everyday. Vegan and healthy foods need to purchased on Chinese ebay or in Kazu's case when she travels back to Japan! This is something China needs to think about desperately. We found that it is also really hard to find brown rice when they harvest it in China too. They export a lot of their products to western countries like the US and they forget about their own people and only allow them to purchase brown rice if it is re-imported!
The next day, we went shopping and cooking with our new friend. We went to the City Shop and got to see the only store that imports products from around the world so the Chinese have a chance at some higher quality or vegetarian/organic options. The prices were about 5x what they are in the states and they still did not have things I purchase at Mother's market or Whole Foods by far. It was mostly looking like foods you would find in a Cost Plus World Market food section but overpriced. After City Shop we headed to the open market which was across the street from the future cafe. There was piles of homemade tofu and seitan which was nice and there were tons of vegetables that looked like we were in a farmer's market.
We decided to make Babycakes' vegan pumpkin muffins together because most of the items were attainable, and I had brought agave with me. We cooked in the cafe that is soon to be opened. The Chinese don't usually have full sized ovens in their homes so we worked with two different toaster ovens, but it worked well and they came out tasty, and made me feel at home again.
Two friends of the girl came by and we got to talk to more locals about the expo and life in Shanghai. Their English was also excellent and everyone we have met is like them and super nice and better at English than I would think.
That night we planned on heading to the expo, but we were exhausted again and passed out at 5pm!
We started with the mustard pumpkin salad. This was spectacular. I highly recommend this dish. It was pumpkin and I think potato chunks in a light mustard sauce and sprinked with pumpkin seeds. This was laying over a bed of fresh lettuce. It was refreshing and delicious.
We also tried the veggie burger. This was more of a hummus sandwich to me, and was pretty good, but I still preferred the pumpkin dish by far. We tried some vegan deserts as well. Our friend had the cheese cake with figs on top. It was perfect and tasted like the real thing. We had a rich chocolate cake made with tofu. It was very rich, but creamy and really good.
The owner was one of the best parts of the restaurants. Kazu is a Japanese woman who also speaks perfect Chinese and English. She explained all of the dishes, recommended what to eat, and talked about vegan life in Shanghai with us. I highly recommend coming to Annamaya, this is not a typical Chinese restaurant and everything is safe to eat, clean and the staff is friendly. The boast not having the mock meats as well, so if you are looking for that come here for sure.
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="448" caption="Pumpkin Mustard DishVeggie Burger"][/caption]
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="448" caption="Vegan Chocolate Cake"][/caption]
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="448" caption="Vegan Cheesecake"][/caption]
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="448" caption="Us with Kazu"][/caption]
Tired from no sleep, we kept going and went to the prettier streets of the French Concession. The streets are lined with trees like they would be in France, but with no French people and instead hoards of Chinese on bikes and scooters. They filled the streets more than the cars most of the time. Whole families were on one scooter, or loads of baggage, trees and other randomness were carried somehow on the small motor bikes.
We reached the apartment, which was comfy and modern. We then headed out to the unique alley a short way from the apartment. Each place was as big as a closet but unique and cute anyway. There were multiple stories that didn't make sense at some times, like a closet size dining table at a restaurant 3 stories up? A teddy bear place that sold food too, but other nice clothing and art stores that we will visit again.
We ate inside a mall that had true Shanghaiese food. We basically ordered everything on the menu that was vegetarian, which was a lot. I have never had anything like any of these dishes. We ate an amazing mixed mushroom and brown sauce that was to die for, bite sized rolls with spinach, rice balls in sugar water (surprisingly good), sweet gluten, sticky rice, cold bean curd with a sauce, lotus root and spinach (very good too), fried yam and taro, and red bean rice for desert. The place was packed full of families with round tables. The service was great and the food was unique to us and really tasty. The only bad thing was they were out of cai bao (veggie bao tsu) and I had a craving for them! The search was on.
We then headed out to a coffee place and then off to a cigar bar. We drank Moscow Mule's in gold tin cups (ginger ale, vodka and lime). The place was nice, quaint and dark. The waiters wore tuxedos and the place was mainly foreigners. We met tons of different parties here, some visiting from abroad as we were. Germans, Hong Kongnese, Americans, Japanese and a Swiss. Most were going to the Expo and they all had a different take on the place.
After a long night of drinking and socializing, we headed home and knocked out. We woke up hours later to go to the fair! The tickets were in a far off hotel looking place that was completely preposterous. 70 million people go to this fair, and they put this building in the completely opposite area, in a room that was about 300 square feet, on the 26th floor, with a person who deals with tons of foreigners and doesn't speak any English. Nonetheless, we grabbed our 7 day pass ticket with Haibao on the front (of course) and headed out. I spotted cai bao on the street and grabbed two for 100 yuan (.50 cents each). They were awesome and the people watched us shove them in our mouths excitedly.
We went through tons of subways and finally reached the fair (take line 9 to line 13 for the best way in there and avoid any ferry or other transportation that takes you past the river). The place was huge! I couldn't believe that I was seeing the pavilions in person when I saw them online for so many months. Out of the 400K people there, we were just about the only foreigners there. I would spot a person once in a while, but it was packed full of Chinese everywhere. They stared and filmed me once I think, but I think there were many rural people that have never been out of their village before this. The Chinese pavilion was spectacular, huge, red and perfect hanging in the sky above us. The upside down looking building rose high above every other building in grandeur and people took pictures all around it. We found out they were doing a reservation to get to the top portion that sells out in 10 minutes so we need to get a plan to get that now.
We saw bottom of the Chinese pavilion that was huge and amazing at first, but turned out to be not so cool and we headed out. We checked out the Sri Lanka pavilion next door and met the real Sri Lankans that were working inside. We ate at a vegetarian buffet next to that pavilion called Godly. It was pretty good and had all you can eat cai bao!
Next, we headed to the Japanese pavilion (purple silkworm) that is a "living breathing organism" building that moves and sucks in rain water and spits it back out to cool itself. After a 3 hour wait in the stinkiest line I have ever been in, shoved next to 8 billion loud, smelly Chinese looking at me and having their children poop in trash can (wtf?) we got in. Old ladies elbowed me to get to the front and they even needed the military to be crowd control.
The Japanese pavilion was amazing with two different robots, a pink one that talked about saving energy and a white one that played the violin. They had the most advanced technologies in the green industry and boasted their efforts of saving the planet and this endangered bird.
We finally got home and passed out again, and are ready for another day.
I have contacted the Shanghai Veggie Club and actually got 3 ladies responding on vegan Shanghai advice and Lucas and I will actually be able to meet one of the girls when we are there! She has a restaurant opening in November called Annie's Cafe which is a vegan restaurant in downtown Shanghai. We will be cooking together with some American products I'm bringing (blue agave, garbanzo bean flour and carob chips) and some trusted cookbooks: Native Foods, Babycakes & Viva Vegan! I can't wait to bring Latin and American vegan food to China!
I will tell more and send pics when we finally meet and get to explore Chinese cooking and new Shanghai friends! Talk to you in China!
So far, I'm going to check out Godly. Godly is an 80 year old vegan restaurant with fake meats mimicking Chinese staple foods. The best thing about this place is that it is also located in the World Fair Expo so we can spend all day at the expo and not only survive off of granola bars and water.
I have a list of other restaurants that are in our price range. They include Vegetarian Lifestyle, Loving Hut!, Gongdelin, Elaines, Annamaya and more...I haven't found any health food stores or places where they would carry any specialty products like almond milk, vital wheat gluten, flaxmeal etc.. I'm sure they do, but I have no idea where yet and I will hopefully be able to translate the ingredients somehow?
The good news is that I read that Buddhist vegetarian restaurants are totally vegan, so we can do our sightseeing and support the monks and their food without guilt. I am looking to find a meditation or yoga place to relax or exercise. Maybe some Tai Chi in the early morning streets too. With the 600,000 people at the fair and millions more in the streets, we will be looking for a quiet retreat and somewhere to see the real China.
New ideas for China: Pictures of awesome English phrases like on Engrish.com are always fun, Have a terrible conversation with every Chinese consisting of probably "Ni Hao" to everyone and clubbin for Lucas' birthday.
I've also learned a lot more about what Beijing has to offer including the rich history of the Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven, Great Wall and the old and new Beijing that we will undoubtedly see while riding bikes or electric scooters around town. Another major attraction for me is the various Buddhist temples, some from the 14th century. I want to see how they live, eat their veggie food, and experience their peace, meditation and spiritualization. I absolutely want to see the real Beijingnese and Shanghainese while were there as well. I don't want to feel so touristy that I'm whisked away to popular tourist events all day - so I found some small towns where they still live in the same living conditions of the Song era and the houses are the same too -amazing. I will miss a lot out of China too, of course, the Yellow River, Huangshou mountains (Avatar!) and most of the small villages around that will be too far to venture out to just for a day. Since our time is limited, we will leave that for another trip...
There is more to learn, especially Mandarin, and I'm still thinking about picking a Chinese name (the travel show we watched today had a guy named Plum Blossom), so if there are any recommendations, I would appreciate it!
I really loved the talks by the two guys who had TV shows. The guy from Myth Busters - Adam Savage and Kingpin who had a show called Prototype This talked about their experiences in the TV industry. Kingpin and Zoz talked about their genius projects on their show with a small budget and about 2 weeks to come up with electrical/mechanical/software engineering inventions that could change the world every month. My favorite talk was from the girl who spoke about The Death of Anonymous Travel though. That was the talk that opened up my eyes to the lack of privacy we live in today and the restricts and abuses of information the government and third parties could hold against you (No Fly List is over a million and has people flagged that have moved in the last year? Or people with bad credit histories? What about the terrorists instead of grandmas and children?).
Anyway, we stayed in Mandalay Bay with 6 pools, beautiful architecture, and the Jonas Brothers! We sweated to the 110 degree heat, and didn't gamble or drink because we were so exhausted. The newsworthy event of the whole conference had to be the only thing that we were completely unaware of and managed to get a picture with (below). Basically some hackers made a fake ATM machine, put a card reader to skim people's credit cards (steal their information) and put it right outside of the security office because that was the only place without cameras! Amazingly their gag was found by a security officer shining his light into the "camera" hole that usually films people as they make their transaction and instead it was a computer!
[caption id="attachment_47" align="alignleft" width="292" caption="Us and the ATM machine at DEFcon"][/caption]
[caption id="" align="alignright" width="292" caption="Big Money- click here for rest of photos.."][/caption]
New York was something to be remembered. We visited many of the tourists spots because it was my first time there and I was not formally announced as a New Yorker yet. We strolled through Central Park, took buses and subways around the city, saw the big tree at Rockefeller Center, went to 5th ave. the day after Christmas, saw Tiffany's jewelry store, ate a hot dog from a street vendor, and went to three H & M's in the first two days.
The next days followed with having family time and watching the snow outside melt and the chilly weather freeze the city over. Next, we took a walk to my great grandparent's old house on 114th street. We took a tour around Columbia university first, and then saw the dirt pile that was their first home in America. We also took a look around Riverside Park which was down the street from them. It was gloomy, but beautiful and we hung out with the friendly squirrels and swung on monkey bars.
We got a City Pass, so we started going to the museums. We first headed to the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum. We watched a movie about collisions that didn't include the Big Bang and we saw manequin people that represented the many cultures. We also saw enormous dinosaurs and taxidermy animals galore.
The next day we headed out to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. I got to see the statue for the first time as my ancestors did almost a hundred years ago. At Ellis Island I couldn't find my great Grandparent's names, but we got to see the holding room for the 22 million peole that went through Ellis Island and got to hear of the horrors of the place as well as accomplishments of the people coming in for freedom.
Next we were around Wall Street, the South Street Seaport and Fresh Salt Restaurant (which was really delicious). We then headed out for Hoboken, NJ to see Lucas' friend from Hong Kong University who invented the Hobo Hooka. We got a little tipsy, played some beer pong (won 2 of 2 games) and Lucas had to carry me across state lines (losing my hat in the process), and we proceeded to sleep half the day away.
New Years Eve we woke up to snow falling. It was light, flaky and beautiful. But I was not looking forward to standing in the snow when we headed down to Times Square. We got out of the house after five, and to Times Square around six. There were already thousands of people waiting. We ran with the crowds down 6th ave. to a point where we could stand. We got our place at 50th & 7th Ave. I was the coldest day I had experienced thus far, and we were going to wait in the 14 degree weather for the next six hours! We stood in the saradine can for three hours with my six shirts, two jackets, four pairs of pants and nothing worked. We were not moving, so our bodies got colder. By the time my feet started to almost fall off we got out of our place in the pack. We found a small place to eat and rushed in for food and warmth. We also hoped that they would let us stay in there to see the ball drop- that's what everyone else was thinking. We got a bite to eat and tried to eat slowly, but workers were blowing whistles at people that were not moving after thirty minutes. We headed out in the cold and found the next place on the side street -Applebees. We got in there and took our hour wait with a sigh of relief. We waited around an hour in the three story building where there was a crazy party up top. They finally seated us and we got drinks and watched Times Square on TV in Times Square.
It was now 11:45 and we walked outside to see our luck. The ball was covered up by buildings, but there were about 20 people waiting at the baricades with the cop. He said he would let us all out to see the ball at 11:59. He did, we watched it, yelled happy new year!, had our 2009 first kiss and ran out of there.
The party did not stop after that. We went to the bronx to see the scenyc guys now. We talked and hung out until we saw lights outside the window. Looking down, we saw about 30 cops running around outside. They saw us looking at them and started banging on the door and barged in. They told us that someone had been shot and they thought it was us. They found out it was next door, and it could have been the wanted man I saw on TV that same day.
After the craziness settled down, we hung out and left at day break.
The next day we headed to the Empire State building. It was freezing at night, but we got a great view of the city from 80 stories up. Before that was for the MOMA museum which was crowded because it was the free Friday night.
Our last day out we went back to Times Square after some shopping. It was beautiful and crazy and the essence of New York. We headed home with so much more to do for next time.
[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="640" caption="New Years Eve in Times Sqaure (Click on picture for full gallery..)"][/caption]