Category Archives: Travel

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?

Five Years Together

With our five year “kiss-iversary” coming up on June 23rd, I booked train tickets to Paris so that we could go back to our roots and relive our magical first kiss at the top of the Eiffel Tower last weekend.

We met at the train station on Friday evening and to my great amazement, Kay took the opportunity to surprise me by shaving his beard off for the FIRST time in five years! As soon as I saw him, I burst out smiling and couldn’t keep the grin off my face for the rest of the weekend.

It was like traveling back in time to 2008, seeing a 24 year old Kay walk into the train station. To say I was ecstatic was putting it lightly. I couldn’t stop smiling from ear to ear!

The entire 4 hour train ride over, I kept looking at Kay and feeling very fuzzy inside, like we were really doing it all over again. My sister saw a picture on Facebook and said he looks ten years younger!

But poor Kay isn’t ready to give up the beard. He had trouble identifying with himself in the mirror and planned on starting to grow his beard back immediately. I had to enjoy that smooth face all I could!

We stayed in the 9th arrondissement in a studio rental I found and had dinner the first night at 1000 & 1 Signes, a mega cool Lebanese restaurant run completely by deaf staff. The entire staff were so, so sweet and caring and it was so interesting seeing into the open kitchen where the chef and waiters were signing orders. They had to be the most polite French wait staff I have ever encountered!

Around the restaurant hung artsy photos showing how to sign for things and after we ordered we were given a brochure about even more signs. Our waiter was so thoughtful at the end he signed to me to keep the brochure with a wink in his eye.

It was all in French of course, but in general I enjoyed the signing because all I do in Paris is point at the menu anyway. And the Lebanese food was great. I only wish I took more pictures so you could have seen our main courses!

After visiting the catacombs of Paris all Saturday, we started Sunday out with some crepe and coffee and then it was off to the Eiffel Tower. It was the 23rd afterall!

Unfortunately, the weather all over Europe was kind of crap. It was apparently sunnier in Switzerland, although they had called for rain, but in Paris it was overcast, windy and COLD. But I was on such a high, I wasn’t going to let the weather ruin the weekend for me.

We had waited already 2 hours in line to see the catacombs and we weren’t much luckier with the Eiffel Tower. We didn’t know about reserving tickets, so we also waited around 2 hours to get to the top, but it’s always worth it for this view!

When we got to the top… the blue sky even started poking out a bit.

But in typical fashion, the blue sky wasn’t really out until we got down from the tower. We had to get ready for our semi fancy dinner though!

Because the weather wasn’t the greatest, we couldn’t really have our wine, cheese and bread picnic at the bottom of the Eiffel Tower, so we did the next best thing and did it back at home!

Kay was temporarily disappointed that all the groceries were closed on Sunday, but I spotted a little old lady with some grocery bags, so we asked her where the grocery was and bought all our goodies right as it started to pour outside.

One bottle of wine and one rough downpour later, we were both in a good mood!

For dinner we went out to Mama Shelter which was a pretty trendy, cool restaurant.

It had couches and funky seating everywhere with chalkboard ceilings and texture overload. I loved it!

After dinner the weather was playing nice, so we went back to the Eiffel Tower at night to really soak up the last romantic moments.

But sadly, those shitty street vendors from Rome with all their lasers and crap have made their way to Paris. It kind of ruins the atmosphere when they are throwing glow in the dark toys up in the air and pointing lasers at you. I only like the vendors from last time who sell wine and champagne at night.

The next day we checked out and went to the Louvre before heading home. I was completely exhausted from standing in lines and walking around, but I’m so happy we made it to Paris for our five years. Hopefully in another five years we’ll be back again!

Where do you celebrate your anniversary with your significant other?


After making my list of 2013 travel destinations last September, our travel plans changed quite a bit when we decided to go to the US for Christmas and also are planning on visiting again for a friend’s wedding this year. But my sister and brother in law surprised me by planning an Easter trip to Rome, so even though it is an expensive time to travel there we went for seven days back in April!

To save money we all rented a condo together and ended up only paying around 33CHF per person per night, which was definitely not bad. All the hotels would have been over 150 a night just for two people! And to save money on flights, we flew out of Basel for the first time.

Rome is also an amaaazing city. I’m so happy we went… just look at all we saw!

The Pantheon… the Colosseum…


Rome at night.

The Spanish steps.

The Vatican… where, I kid you not… the heavens opened up and sunshine poured down on us ALL FOUR times we went there. For a rainy week, this was pretty spectacular.

We saw the pope too! He gave us a blessing and Kay stayed for mass before we went to the Sistine Chapel.

The Vatican at night…

But they did call for rain every day that week… and on our second day we encountered this:

Which pretty much soaked my sister and brother-in-law’s shoes completely. But I was pretty happy in my gortex rain jacket and hiking boots. Best shoe choice yet!

We saw more ruins… just scattered around the city.

We saw the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel and all around the museum. 🙂

Ate tons of gelato, mozzarella, pasta, pizza and wine.

Trevi fountain:

Spanish steps… yet again! 🙂

Some beautiful sunsets.

Colosseum at night!

St. Peter’s:

We also saw the catacombs with 2000 year old graves from Romans and early Christians. Between that and ALL the basilicas we saw, the Vatican, Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain and the Colosseum… I feel like we “did” Rome.

Now I am only feeling a bit guilty that we’re almost half way through 2013 and I’ve only been to one of the cities on my 2013 list. I’m not sure we are going to make it to Venice… but I’m hoping we can still manage London this year!

Weekend in Wallis

In, gosh… 2011 (how long ago it sounds!) we received a smartbox as a wedding present that would let us stay one night in a number of fancy hotels or wellness centers in Switzerland, eastern France or northern Italy.

During the winter of 2011/12 we put off deciding when to go because we thought it would be nice to go in the summer and spend one night in the mountains camping and then another night in the hotel. Then we would really have a full weekend to utilize the long journey time by train.

When summer 2012 rolled around we finally sat down and decided which hotel we wanted to stay at but because it was really a wellness hotel with a sauna and steam room, Kay thought it sounded like more a winter activity and he wanted to wait until it was cold to go.

Well, here we are in January and the smartbox was expiring soon! Without waiting we finally booked the hotel last week and left for Mörel early Saturday morning.

Mörel is around 2.5 hours from Zürich and originally I wanted to spend two nights in the hotel, but Kay wanted to save some dough so we just planned to go early Saturday, spend the day snowshoe walking and then later enjoying the wellness center and then on Sunday we would head back.

We got to Salina Maris hotel around 9:30am. They were pretty surprised when we told them we walked up from the station. I didn’t read the reservation email thoroughly, but apparently they would have sent a driver to pick us up from the train station for free! Oh well… it was only a 10-15 minute walk up the hill.

The hotel generously let us check in early (9:30 is pretty darn early!) and rented us snowshoes and poles. We dropped our thing in the room, rearranged our backpacks for hiking and were off.

As you can kind of tell, the mountains were pretty gorgeous. When we first arrived it was really sunny and we had blue skies, but we did experience some clouds and fog throughout the walk.

Snowshoe walking is also, by the way, pretty fun. Tromping around like a little kid in the snow is great!

I ended up just wearing long underwear under my normal trekking pants. I had puffy $10 snowpants from Kohls in my backpack, but I didn’t need to use them because it was warm enough walking.

After a few hours of walking the trails, we headed back down the gondola to Mörel again and prepared ourselves for wellness time!

In the wellness area we spent several hours using the sauna for 15 minute increments, taking a rest outside, using the steam room for 10 minutes, resting and repeating. At the end we jumped in the salt pool and enjoyed the jacuzzi.

At 18:00 there was an apero for guests and we met the other guests (all Swiss) in the hotel for some white Walliser wine. Everyone at the apero was very friendly and I had a nice time trying to keep up in Swiss German.

One of the couples at the apero ended up going to the restaurant as well so we actually enjoyed our complementary three-course meal with a pair from the Biel region! It was not as “romantic” as we had planned, but I was surprised and delighted to have much such open, friendly Swiss. It is really not common to just sit down and eat dinner with complete strangers here, but they were so much fun to talk to.

The next morning we got up and enjoyed the delicious brunch before enjoying the sauna and steam room one last time. When we headed back to the train we were both extremely relaxed.

I can highly recommend the hotel rooms at Salina Maris. They are very large, have nice, clean bathrooms and even kitchnettes and fridges to use for the weekend. The ski slopes were also practically empty, in case you were looking for more reasons to go. 😉