Category Archives: Travel

Heading to London

OK, it didn’t happen in 2013 as I planned, but we are finally heading to London soon!

(Image source via Flickr)

I am pretty excited, but I still need to do my gluten-free research. It really adds a lot of work to each trip, even if it’s just for a few days.

I also need to look up what to see in London. I’m a little overwhelmed because A. there is a lot of stuff to see and B. I seem to know a BUNCH of people/bees that are in or around London and I feel kind of bad if I spend all my time looking at tourist attractions instead of with people…

What would you want to see most in London?

Gluten-free Berlin

My little sister was doing an exchange year in Germany this past year. Her program was very regulated, so while she was able to come visit us in Switzerland for Christmas, visiting her every weekend did not happen. I was pretty excited when her host family asked me if I would take her to Berlin. Apparently the school trip there didn’t pan out and since I’d already met the host family, they trusted me to plan everything!

I had already been to Berlin in 2007 during my study abroad, but I went in December and didn’t see much. I organized our plane tickets to meet my sister on a Friday evening and then take the train to the main station where we stayed in a Motel One not far away.

This time I decided to do some proper gluten-free research before the trip. Researching gluten-free restaurants is much quicker and easier via computer than on a handheld device and this way I was able to print out the locations of the places with a short description so that they were easy to find without internet in the city. I also packed a fair amount of GF power bars and dried fruit so that after breakfast I would have something to snack on before dinner or in case I was in a pinch.

I chose Motel One because it was so close to the main train station. It was easy to get to and from the airport as well as around the city, despite Berlin’s disjointed public transportation system.

I also decided to pre-book the breakfast option at the hotel so that we could eat breakfast straight away in the morning and hit the city without wasting time looking for gluten-free friendly places. I just hoped it would be OK for me and it turns out it was one of the best decisions of the trip!

The breakfast was seriously the highlight of our rainy weekend in Berlin. They had so many gluten-free options with fresh fruit, fresh veggies, meat, cheese and even gluten-free rice bread and lactose free milk for my coffee. I was beyond impressed! My sister was amused by how much I ate, but with daily sports during the week, I’m completely famished all the time now!

My sister was also thoroughly enjoying the breakfast. They had muesli, hard boiled eggs, fresh bread and croissants of the gluten variety. We really enjoyed breakfast both Saturday and Sunday. We even got up a little earlier on Sunday to enjoy it even longer!

There were quite a few showers during the weekend, but when it was sunny it was really nice. It was much colder than the week before and up North the temperatures dropped quite a bit, so we bought tights and jeans for my sister who had only brought shorts.

Saturday we mainly walked around and shopped because every time it rained we would duck into a store. We saw the Berlin Cathedral, walked around Flohmarkts and shopped in the Kreuzberg district. I snacked on my GF treats whenever I got hungry because my appetite is so much bigger than my sister’s right now and we got some fresh fruit and snacks at a local market along the way.

We made plans to come visit the TV tower at night, but we were disappointed that the view was not very well set up for night visits. We mainly saw a reflection of the indoor lights… and well, once you’ve seen the tallest buildings in Chicago and NYC, it’s hard to compare.

What is a trip to Berlin without some hipster pictures?

Or some hipster coffee?

Don’t worry. We didn’t stop until we found the most hipster place possible. My sister has turned into a Euro hipster. It’s hilarious. 🙂

On Saturday night we went to dinner at the all-paleo restaurant Sauvage. My sister convinced me that we deserved an expensive meal together to celebrate our summer birthdays which are not too far off from one another. It was absolutely delicious and I highly recommend it if you are into paleo or gluten-free. It is a bit on the costly side, but I really have to accept that specialty restaurants like this just have to cost more.

The next day we made sure to visit some top sights like the Brandenburg Gate, Checkpoint Charlie, the WWII memorial, the Wall and some more flohmarkts.

For lunch we went to Aunt Benny’s where they had a few gluten-free options. I had a sandwich and my first ever gluten-free dessert off a menu. OK, that’s not true… I had a chocolate flour-less cake in Vieques which was pretty good too, but this was my first ordered dessert in two months! Apple crumble. Mmmm. I could have about a billion more of them.

The weather was better on Sunday and it only rained a little, so I’m glad we waited to do the wall that day.

I had a really lovely time talking with my sister and having a relaxed weekend in Berlin. We had a loose idea of what we wanted to do and I had all my food preparation so that I wouldn’t be caught hungry searching for a place to eat. It made the weekend much more relaxing for me.

I so enjoyed this weekend away that it made me wonder why I don’t do more weekend trips in Europe. I always say I want to, but then Kay and I book ourselves up or decide that it costs too much. Well… that should change! I told you all that I wanted to go to Rome, Venice and London in 2013 and I only went to Rome last year!

Are you a fan of weekend getaways?

Miami South Beach

I’ll be honest: Miami is not a city that Kay and I would plan to visit if it weren’t for his brother living there. It was never anywhere near the top of our to-do list.

Most people I talk to over here have only been to one or two American cities: New York, LA or Miami. Miami itself is hyped up as this amazing party city that everyone needs to visit, when in reality… everyone would be better off going somewhere else.

My main beef with South Beach is that it’s extremely touristy and there is little culture beyond spring break style parties and buying expensive crap on Lincoln Road. Maybe that’s all Europeans are interested in experiencing when they visit America, but I feel like we have so, sooo much more to offer and that people shouldn’t waste their time on a place like Miami.

I found some pretty awesome vacation rentals on our three-week trip, but we kept being plagued by things like yippy dogs in Puerto Rico. In Miami it was street construction.On the first morning there, we were woken up at 7am when construction workers started ripping up our street corner right outside our place. Really, Miami? Really?

But despite the infuriating 7am wake-up calls every day (where it would later be quiet from 8am onward when you were thoroughly woken up), it was a very nice little apartment for a good price with almost all the amenities we needed. I admired the compact IKEA kitchen. The only things missing were dish soap and some kitchen towels.

If you are looking for a nice, affordable place right next to the beach, here’s the VRBO link.

Kay was really excited to drive a Z4 around Miami. It might have been his first time driving in a convertible like that. I was less impressed because I have long hair and Miami is really a city where you need an automatic for the stop-and-go, a roof to block the sun and good climate control, which the Z4 definitely did not have. I was a sweaty mess. 😉

It was still nice to hit up the beach one more time after the wedding in Columbus and brown up a bit more before going back to work. I know tanning is horrible for you… but I still love coming back with a summer glow from trips.

The view from Kay’s brother’s apartment.

Miami’s gluten free options seemed a bit easier to navigate than Puerto Rico’s and we did get to do a bit of last minute USA shopping before heading home.

My meal from Yard Bird.

Whelp. Three weeks went by quickly.

I was happy to go home because after eating out almost all of my meals and feeling sick from cross-contamination, I was looking forward to eating clean gluten-free meals at home.

I’ll try and pull together a little mini-review of our gluten-free experiences from Puerto Rico and Miami. They won’t be comprehensive, but they might help some celiacs planning travels. I know I like seeing blogs about where to eat these days!

Tell me, what do you think of Miami? Yay or nay?

Traveling gluten-free the first time sucks

Kay and I are lucky enough to have both the funds and the holiday time to go on some amazing trips. Normally they are great, but this time things were different, if not difficult. (Yep, first world problem ahead…)

We knew for over a year that my brother would marry in April 2014 and we get a lot of Easter holidays then, so we decided to plan a big trip with two weeks somewhere warm and a week split between Columbus for the wedding and Miami to see Kay’s brother. I ended up finding some decent flights to Puerto Rico, so we booked Zurich – PR, PR – Columbus, Columbus – Miami, Miami Zurich. Three weeks off! I was really excited.

By the time I got my 100% real, confirmed celiac diagnosis, I only had two weeks at home to start adjusting to the gluten free diet. Kay was amazed at how quickly I wrapped my head around all the things I could no longer eat and how I stopped gluten cold turkey, but I was overwhelmed by cooking and baking. I stopped all baking for several months and in the first two weeks I kept things very simple and made  a lot of rice, stir fries and naturally (easy) gluten-free meals.

We figured that eating would be fairly easy in Puerto Rico with lots of rice and bean options, so we made our usual holiday plans; We buy plane tickets, we book accommodations and car rentals and we look up some activities and attractions to see. Sometimes we just buy a travel book and read it on the plane. Our activity plans have always been pretty loose.

If I could have chosen the timing, I would not have planned a huge trip right at the beginning of my celiac journey, but the wedding was happening so I tried to look forward to traveling. People kept asking if I was excited, but I was really anxious about the trip. I looked up a little bit about gluten-free eating before we left, but I procrastinated and ran out of time to plan places to eat. It took longer to plan all the accommodations for Miami too! I thought it would still be fine with WIFI at the B&B. We could look up places to eat like normal. I printed out some Spanish gluten-free restaurant cards to help ask about food and thought I was good to go.

I ordered my gluten-free meal with US Airways ahead of time, but as the stewardess came closer and closer with the meal trays, I almost had a panic attack. My heart was racing. What if they don’t have my GF meal??! I had lots snacks, but still. I might have cried!

My heart was pounding when she asked me whether I would like the pasta or the stir fry. “I ordered a special meal,” I said meekly. Seriously, almost crying. “Ah yes, what’s your name? Here it is!” Yep. So easy. Crisis averted. I was very happy with the food as well. It was better than the normal food! Very impressive US Airways! Whew.

It was clear that this was going to be a stressful trip.

As I would find out later, one of the hardest meals to find gluten-free is breakfast. It took us over an hour on the first day to decide to go to the cafe where I got this fruit salad.

All the bed and breakfast recommendations were unhelpful to me because they recommended things like the local bakery and cafes that didn’t serve fruit or non-bread items. It is surprisingly hard to find fresh fruit, even on an island like Puerto Rico, and most of the general breakfast offerings included or were limited to toast.

Eating became a nightmare.

I would wake up starving. Maybe it was gluten withdrawal, but I wanted food and I wanted it very soon. But first we needed to find a place to go. On the following days we had to eat at other breakfast places because the cafe with the fruit opened later.

Kay would look a bit on the guide the B&B gave us and a little bit on the internet on his phone and then he would say, “Well, I’ll leave it up to you.” I would then spend the next hour or two searching gluten-free eating, reading restaurant reviews on Tripadvisor or blogs and then looking up how far away the restaurant was, whether it was open and how much it would cost.

I would hum and ho and not know where to go or what to eat. I was blocked. Nothing was really “gluten free”  and I was really unsure where to go. Crosschecking each restaurant menu with user reviews online on my phone or iPad was much more tedious than I anticipated! I wanted my food to taste good too! Kay would be hungry by then and say, “Well, I can go anywhere!” with increasing exasperation, which yes, yes I know he can go anywhere. Sigh. I used to be able to as well. 🙁

By the time I was totally annoyed that I was wasting so much of my holiday researching food on my phone and we were both full-on hangry, I would finally decide on a place where we should go. Repeat this excruciating research-hangry process for the rest of the meals and you would have our holiday.

Several times we had only Spanish-speaking waiters and I was extremely nervous about ordering safe food to eat. Once I wasn’t sure what I ordered after explaining my situation and I sat in terror at the table while we waited for our food. Kay didn’t quite get it, but I couldn’t stop the anxiety from welling up. My stomach sank further and further and I was just stressed in the worst sense.

As soon as we would eat, I was happy again. I would remain happy and care free until I became hungry again. When I was hungry, I became scared about where I was going to find some safe food to eat again. I have never felt like this on holiday before and I didn’t like it.

I also felt embarrassed that I have to ask about my diet issues before each meal. I would apologize and feel bad for “being difficult” because I always ALWAYS ate whatever before. Kay would assure me it’s fine and I just have to get used to doing it every meal.

Sometimes I didn’t mention my disease and I would have problems. I ordered an omelet that didn’t say it came with any toast or anything and it came with toast and french fries, which I am also too scared to eat right now. So I had a mini-freakout when the food arrived and I pushed the bad items onto Kay’s plate and cleaned my plate off with a napkin so I could eat the egg part that didn’t touch the crumbs. Lesson learned: always, always mention my diet issue.

On Vieques we rented a flat with a kitchen, so we would be able to do breakfast ourselves. The problem was that we went there on Good Friday when everything was closing shop for Easter weekend, so we were worried about finding anything to eat for breakfast, let alone gluten-free food. We ended up shopping at a very small local gas station because the grocery was already closed.

Luckily, they had some options. Did you know Fruity Pebbles are gluten-free?

Not only were they gluten-free, they were the only gluten-free cereal in the store. I’m five again. Hell yeah!

I was happier on Vieques because we had breakfast in the morning and snacks at the beach, so I only had to worry about dinner and we found a restaurant that had GF clearly listed on the menu.

Above, the Arecibo Observatory and below, on the beach in San Juan.

Our terrace below was beautiful, but man alive this place below had dogs in the backyard that barked at each other until midnight and at 6am. With paper windows, I just couldn’t take it even with earplugs.

I did get sick a few times on the trip in each city. I was never quite sure what it was, but in Columbus I think I definitely had some gluten because I felt similarly sick as I did on our last trip there. It was really strange.

We also noticed that eating gluten-free means spending more money on nicer, higher-quality food. I don’t really have a choice about the gluten now, so this is just something I will have to get used to and plan for when thinking about holidays. I mean, we spend more on food at home now as well.

Puerto Rico was not all bad. It was a relaxing, easy-going holiday when I wasn’t stressed out and hungry. But I think for us, Hawaii still wins, hands-down.

Oh American Airlines

Online check-in opened up 24 hours before our flight to the US last week, so when I went to check in I was a little surprised to see that ALL the seats were taken aside from some hefty upgrade options. Then I was disappointed.

It seemed a little scammy to me. Would we really have to chalk up more money in order to get seats together after we had bought tickets together (and assigned seats) four months previously?

Kay actually sounded vaguely interested in spending an additional $180 to get some emergency exit row seats together, but the principle of it really disturbed me. I bought two seats together with plenty of time before the rest of the plane filled up. Our seats should be together! I didn’t want to have to pay significantly more just to sit together.

American airlines responded via Twitter and said they would look into it, and after a little while they told me that some seats opened up and we would only be a couple rows from each other, which is easier to ask people to switch than when you are on opposite ends of the plane from one another. But when I checked our reservations later in the evening the night before we flew, we were still in the same seats above. I was frustrated so I went to bed and hoped something would open up in the morning.

Luckily seats had changed again in the morning and I was able to change our reservation to two seats together finally. But the site told me while my seats were confirmed, they would have to print them at the airport. Fine.

At the airport, we received our tickets and our seats were still together, but when we got on the plane I realized the seats were in an entirely different section than I had confirmed online. And on our connecting flight and the flights home, we were also together but on totally different seats than our reservations had told us. It’s really like a slot machine. You have no idea where you will end up on the plane! I can’t imagine paying for business tickets and being treated this way, but it seems to be totally fine to treat economy passengers with these mystery seats.

We were also always in the last boarding zone, group 4. I believe most airlines use boarding zones to fill the plane up faster from the back to the front, but on our last flight by the time group 4 was called and we made our way onto the plane, the back of the plane (row 39 out of 44) was almost completely full already and many people further ahead and further behind had been seated before us.

It didn’t make any sense.

During check-in I was asked if I wanted to upgrade to group 1 boarding for $10 a piece. I said no of course. It really seems like boarding zones are based on how much you paid for your ticket and not where you are sitting in the plane. And in the end, loading people into the plane after it has filled up wastes time and causes more flight delays. Our plane landed in Zürich almost an hour late. Coincidence? I think the poorly planned boarding zones contributed to the delay. Many people straggling into the plane late had issues storing their carry on luggage away because everyone around them had already taken it and we had to wait for flight attendants to help sort the issue out.

Does anybody else have experience with American Airlines having totally bogus seating arrangements and funky boarding groups? I really get the feeling that they are just trying to make an extra dollar off me. I’d rather have them treat passengers normally and roll those costs into tickets if need be. Otherwise, I will be choosing other more dependable airlines in the future.

Starting to think I should write up some airline reviews when we fly… What do you think, is that worth reading?