Gluten Free Traveler

I am gluten intolerant. Usually, I get the response “oh, that is unfortunate, it seems so hard.” It can be extremely difficult when all I want is to to order a pizza from the joint down the street or a eat a cookie that my friends just baked.

Initially, gluten intolerance and travel do not seem like a good pairing. They can actually seem like a nightmare if you think of all the things you cannot eat. Often times, they require more planning, reading labels, printing out cards in various languages explaining your condition, and attempting to ask the waiter in their native language if there is anything without gluten in their restaurant. However, the more places you travel the better you become at finding options that are  satisfying and allow you to experience some of the local flavor.

Some cuisines are better than other. I have to say that in my four months in Prague I was unable to eat about 90 percent of  Czech food because they love their wheat flour. I was able to eat most of the meat they prepared and their potatoes. However, most of their sauces were thickened with wheat so I would often have to ask for them to hold the sauce. Their most famous dishes knedliky (bread dumplings),  smazeny syr (fried cheese), bramboraky (fried potato pancakes), kolache (sweet fruit pastry) and of course beer are needless to say not gluten intolerant friendly. I struggled in Prague when I went to restaurants.  I was able to cook my food fairly easily. The local Billa had gluten free pasta, bread, deserts, chips, etc. I eventually found a gluten free beer and an entirely gluten free restaurant. Plus, my favorite food of all time is Mexican. Mexican is very easy for gluten intolerant people because of good old corn tortillas. I managed to find the one restaurant and it became my favorite place in the city.

Paris was particularly difficult as well because all I wanted to do was grab a baguette at a bakery and smear brie cheese all over it.  Every morning I met my friends in Montmartre and they would pick out their pastries, crepes, and croissants. I’ll be honest, it nearly killed me.

In the Netherlands and Belgium, I ate my fair share of frites. They were naturally gluten free as long as they did not use the same oil to fry them and other bread products. I ate a modified version of Wiener Schnitzel in Austria. I had the best spicy goulash in Hungary. In Germany, due to their diversity I had Thai, Indian, and Vietnamese food.

Surprisingly, Italy was the best country for gluten intolerances. Because their diet consists almost exclusively of wheat products, young children are tested for gluten intolerances and celiacs disease. There are tons of restaurants that offer wonderful gluten free options. Rome was my best food location and I felt like I gained 10 pounds in 4 days being there. I visited with my friend studying in Rome who is also gluten intolerant. I had an amazing time eating pasta, pizza, gelato in gluten free cones, cakes, and biscotti. It was gluten free heaven.

Due to my initial struggle in Prague whenever I met an Australian backpacker, I immediately hounded them if they know about gluten intolerances and the accessibility of gluten free food in Australia. I met one girl in Krakow, that was actually gluten free too. Although she was from Perth and not Melbourne, she insisted that it was fairly easy to be gluten free in Australia. Hallelujah!!

When I arrived in Melbourne, I went to the local grocery store, Cole’s, and found half an aisle of gluten free products from brownies to crackers. At least I knew I could cook gluten free foods, but how about the restaurants. Nearly every restaurant has at least one gluten free option. It is fantastic. Even fast food pizza chains Dominos and Pizza Hut have gluten free crust. WIth the exception of one cafe, I have been able to eat anywhere my friends wanted to go.

I reently got back from a road trip in the countryside. I stopped a a tiny local grocery store, not expecting to find anything. Much to my surprise, they had a tiny but mighty gluten free section. Australia is wonderful for individuals with gluten intolerances.

With that being said, being gluten free is not cheap. While there are many options here, restaurants usually charge anywhere from 3 to 6 dollars extra for the meal to be gluten free. Thus, on a student budget I opt to cook the majority of my food at home.  Even in stores the products can be a bit of steep. I was craving brownies last week so I purchased a mix for a whopping 6 dollars. It really killed me to buy it, but I had such a chocolate craving, I caved. I made them and while at home I have made many GF mixes, the final product was awful. Not only was my chocolate craving not satisfied but I was irritated that I had spend a bloody fortune on them. I complained for about a minute before I googled the company online and sent them a email politely notifying them of their less than stellar product. Now, I am not usually a complainer, but what can I say? Do not mess with me and chocolate. I received a prompt email asking for my home address and within 2 days I had a package of gluten free products to make up for my dissatisfaction. Lesson learned: do not be afraid to give the company feedback on their product. They will send you more free things to keep you satisfied and happy.

I made a quick list of the countries that were good/bad/ok for people with gluten intolerances. These are just based on my opinions and experiences so some people may have different ideas and disagree.

Fantastic: Australia, Italy

Good: Ireland, Scotland, England, Germany (Schar is a German Gluten Free company that sells their products all across Europe), Spain

Just All right (had some difficulty with traditional dishes): France, Austria, Croatia, Montenegro,Netherlands, Belgium, Hungary

Poor: Czech Republic, Poland (hard when eating out, ok in stores), Slovakia

To all of my fellow GF travelers: I wish you the best of luck. Happy eating!!

Beauty in the Mundane

I apologize in advance. I do not have any beautiful photographs of escapades in the city or any batty anecdotes to tell you right now. I do have some amazing road trip and camping stories coming up shortly along. Rather, this long-winded post is more of my way to unwind and release some of the tension that I have built up over the last few weeks. The weekdays have not been the most invigorating to say the least. In fact, they were practically lifeless if we compare them to preceding weekends. Honestly, the days merged together as they were a mash of assignments, clashing personalities, presentations, frustration and a nuisance of a head cold.

I have experienced problems with housing and my landlord (s) that were hopefully settled today after a month of back and forth negotiations (*crosses fingers). I was kicked out of my house due to faulty building permits. It was only due to my friends that I had a place to live.  So in dear Melbourne, I have been homeless twice. Balancing my finances has also been particularly challenging this time around; Australia is very expensive in comparison to Central Europe. I have done side jobs in both places just for extra cash, which has supplemented me quite well. However, I will be going back to the States with practically nothing to my name and I am entering my final year of undergraduate studies, which means that I need to think about the future (a terrifying thought). Tell me why I cannot be a professional student, please?

Most of the time I can barely contain my joy for the opportunities I have been given and sought out for myself.  Of course, I am incredibly grateful and wouldn’t change a single thing but it’s not all fun and games that everyone seems to think. Life still goes on back home despite your distance and just because you are on a different continent, it does not mean that you are not affected by occurrences back home. Similarly, just because you live somewhere else does not mean that everyday problems won’t affect you. In, fact, sometimes the smaller things seem worse because you don’t have the comfort of the familiar and the support system that you have back home.  Nor do I have the means to fix things from afar.

Living in Australia has challenged me in different ways than Europe did, and I will be coming back with yet again a changed worldview (There’s no language barrier, but don’t let that fool you).  I feel stronger than ever and I feel confident imparting a little wisdom to other young, eager, and hopeful travelers.

You need to be resilient, robust, and a little bit more optimistic than most.  More importantly, you also need to stick up for yourself. Be a force of nature.  Demand the most out of your experiences.  Appreciate the people who you meet but don’t get bent out of shape if some bother you (its not a popularity contest). This is also applicable to long-term life lessons, but is particularly true when traveling. It is those who greet challenges head on, who move on when things don’t go the way they were planned, and who pick themselves up to greet each new day with abundant energy, spunkiness, and passion that truly know how to travel right.

If you focus on the little problems, they will eat away at you. Every time I swipe my credit card, I wince. I think about how much interest I will incur at the end of the month and how long it will take me to pay that off. However, when your eyes see the sunset over the ocean, or hike to the bottom of the waterfall, all is forgotten and you cannot help but be in awe of the earth’s beauty.

I am a born traveler. I am convinced that even if I did not start now, I would have found my calling later on. I love travel for many different reasons and clearly the endless possibility for adventure has stolen my heart. It is in the still moments, the mundane, the tram rides, the nighttime walks home, the laughs shared with my housemates, and even times when I am so frustrated that all I can do is turn on music and dance that I really appreciate travel and change.

I often underestimate that ability. There are in fact some people who do not exhilarated by getting on an airplane and being alone in a new place. I thrive in it, while others detest it. For others, there are limits as to what they will take. I have seen my housemates hit their breaking points and they are slowly making their way back.

One of my good friends withdrew from the university and left due to plethora of personal reasons.  I understand her reasons and she is much happier now that she is at home and I am glad that it all worked out for the best.  She hit her limit. I, on the other hand, continue to be tested and say keep them coming. It will take a lot more than being homeless twice, being broke, and being injured to dampen my wanderlust.

One more thing, I suppose I lied; I do have one photograph for you. It’s from my little porch during an exquisite sunset. Even the sky can brighten my spirits when I am down.

So cheers to the mundane. It makes us appreciate how special movement and travel truly is. I do not take anything for granted, even the low points because they make the rest just that much better.

Urban Canvas

I  desperately need to update, but I have many legitimate reasons as to this long hiatus which includes both getting sick and being kicked out of my house/homeless/moving into new house. See, I promised they were legit.  Stories will come later. Thus, a short post about some graffiti/street art snooping  filled with artsy photos will have to suffice.

The one thing I did do last week amongst all the chaos was a little scavenger hunt throughout the city looking for graffitti. Melbourne is quite renown for its street art attracting famous artists such as Sixten, Vexta, Miso, Prism, plus hundreds more and even the British Banksy went across the pond to liven up Melbourne’s streets.  While their names leave much to be desired which is part of the art’s exhibition, they are a talented and eclectic bunch of people. Look them up, their creativity is inspiring.  I personally love street art and although there are those city council members that will attempt to distinguish tagging and graffiti from street art, I simply enjoy others creativity and abstain from the political jargon woes that plague it.

There a a few alleyways in the CBD that are entirely covered in art, but there are also some area further out that have large clusters. I primarily wandered in Fitzroy and Brunswick.  There are some more neighborhoods that I need to check out as well and I am sure to do so in the near future. The images will speak louder than words so instead of a long winded post I will simply post them.

Happy Reading (or should I say viewing?)