How to do Vegan Venice in Two Days

In October I turned the big 30, and I’ve been waiting on the present from the hub for a while – a trip to Venice. I knew it would be amazing, but I had it in the same category as Paris – some beautiful sights, but ultimately, a normal city like any other. This wasn’t the case. It took a few hours to shake the feeling that we were in a film set, or a themed area of Disneyland. It was too beautiful to be real.

Continue reading “How to do Vegan Venice in Two Days”

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A vegan trip to the Lake District: walking in Ambleside

On the first real sunny weekend of the year we escaped to the Lakes. The sunshine was a happy coincidence rather than specifically running away to the sun, and it turned out to be the perfect weekend, with great vegan food, beautiful scenery and a gorgeous quiet little b&b to make our base. I’d never been to Ambleside before, and I’d go back in a heartbeat. Continue reading “A vegan trip to the Lake District: walking in Ambleside”

Eating vegan in Vegas

Las Vegas is a city of steak – and as a tourist it can be overwhelming trying to find vegan food to suit what you’re in the mood for, whether it’s something quick, cheap and on the go, or somewhere special to sit down and enjoy.

I recently spent a week in Vegas with my family, including a day at the World Pole Expo (<3). It took us a few days to find the best places, but here’s a run down:

Vegan Food in Las Vegas

The Wynn

First thing to note – Steve Wynn, owner of the Wynn and the Encore is vegan. I found it a little odd that a vegan would serve foie gras in his own establishment, but there you go. Anyway, it means that supposedly every food outlet in the Wynn provides at least one vegan option, so at least Steve doesn’t go hungry. We sampled chocolate chip muffins at “The Cafe” (divine) as well as a vegan pizza and a fake chicken thing with noodles at the Allegro, which is classed as casual dining but is pretty fancy for a cheeky dinner. In the US their version of Quorn appears to be Gardein Chick’n – which is much less dry and tough and overall better. The Wynn isn’t a cheap dinner, but it was delicious.


Allegro
The Cafe

Chipotle

Chipotle is a Mexican fast food outlet that’s all over the US, kind of like a Subway but for burritos. I guess the UK is getting more and more Barburrito now – it’s similar. We visited a few times while we were there as it was a quick lunch for on the go and there was one over the road from the Mirage where we were staying. Turns out I only have a photo of the burrito bowl – this was great for a bit of fresh salad after a few too many cocktails the night before! You can also get Sofritas in your burrito, which is shredded, spiced tofu – so good.

Chipotle

Hussong’s Cantina (Mandalay Bay)

Hussong’s was our last night in Vegas, and we were absolutely gutted not to have found it sooner. Seriously, we were only there a week but I’d have been happy to eat there 2 or even 3 nights. I LOVE Mexican food, and the comprehensive vegan menu included sour cream and Daiya cheese (which NEEDS to launch in the UK – best vegan cheese I’ve ever had). You can choose from Gardein Chick’n or Beefless Tips, of just plain fried veggies. As there were four vegans at our table we pretty much sampled every option between us, and it was all amazing. Casual, fun experience and even a mariachi band.

Hussong’s Cantina

Slice of Vegas (Mandalay Bay)

This one is a kind of cheat to include, and a bit bittersweet. We arrived at Hussong’s early for our reservation, so popped next door for a beer while we waited, which is where we found Slice of Vegas, a kind of casual sports bar. This is where we discovered a whole vegan pizza menu, but we had no more nights left to spend here. So here’s the menu, it looked great, but I can’t vouch for it. Let me know if you’ve been! (or don’t, it might upset me…)

Slice of Vegas

More eating vegan in Vegas

Aside from the above, you’ve also got Denny’s, which offers a vegan burger. You can find one on Freemont Street if you’re down for the light show. Walgreen’s are ok for an overpriced banana and some hummus if you find yourself in a bind. Brits know where they stand with Subway (veggie delite, obviously). And many of Auntie Anne‘s pretzels are vegan, as long as you request no butter. Stay away from Panda Express which cooks everything in animal stock, and California Pizza Kitchen which covered out cheese-free pizza in Parmesan!

gang

My trip was more about beers with family than fine dining, and it turned out that eating vegan in Vegas was easier than I thought – much easier than on the flight with Thomas Cook anyway! I’d love to return with a bit more cash in my pocket and try some of the more luxurious options, particularly at the Wynn and Encore (and to try the pizza at Slice of Vegas at least!) If you have any additions to this list, do let me know ❤

Thomas Cook vegan food isn’t vegan

I’ve been quiet recently and with good reason (the best reason) – HOLIDAY! We spent a week in Vegas with the Dempsey clan including a sojourn to the World Pole Expo, and then the hub & I spent a second week at Disneyworld & Universal in Orlando. WOW, I hear you say, yes wow! It was so much fun, and amazing to actually take two weeks off work!

But… I hear you ask, what was it like eating vegan there? Well, it wasn’t as easy as the UK where I know what all my go-to options and back up plans for lunch and dinner are. But the worst food we had was undoubtedly on the flight. Hence the name of this post – if you’re vegan, don’t fly Thomas Cook.

**UPDATE** A little over a MONTH after my first complaint, Thomas Cook finally replied. Without saying very much at all. Skip to the end to read their response.

Outbound flight

Lunch:
The outbound flight boarded at around 9 am. We’d already had some Jus Rol pastries at the airport waiting around (prep work bitches!) so we were feeling good as we boarded. And then at 11.45am lunch was served. A curry. I mean, out of all the gripes I’m about to list this one was pretty minor, but literally no one starves themselves before a flight because they can’t wait for the airline food. Having literally just finished breakfast, pretty much as soon as we were airborne, it was curry time.

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But you know what, the curry tasted good so it was an ok start. Heavy on the rice and low on the veg but flavours were decent. It was served with a side of bread and jam. And followed up with a dessert of bread and jam. That’s right kids, in one meal, we had double bread and jam.

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There was also a tiny pack of raisins, the sort you’d give to a kid at school, and some marmite. Also a cracker – to spread with the jam. Or make into a cracker sandwich with the double bread, who knows. Thankfully it did also come with an apple.
Rating: 6/10

It goes downhill from here.

Tea and coffee was served: no soy milk (or anything else).
Rating: 0/10

Afternoon snack: everyone else (who’d paid the same as us) had a cornetto. Vegans – nothing.
Rating: 0/10

Afternoon tea
The omnis (meat eaters) on the flight had the classic cheese sandwich, egg sandwich, scone, clotted cream etc. The vegans received a familiar sight: double bread and jam! In case you hadn’t yet got tired of the two miniature loaves from earlier, we got two more! I couldn’t face actually eating it, and so passed the time making mini sandwiches and eating my emergency Nakd bars.

We also got a banana, yes food of the gods, but it hadn’t exactly been bubble wrapped as you’ll see from the picture. They did swap it for a better one though.
Rating: 3/10

The Return Flight

Naturally I was feeling suspicious and apprehensive about the flight back, so loaded up on our own snacks and had a big breakfast. As soon as you’re vegan for a week you learn how to sort yourself out in anticipation of a long day. And so it turned out my cautiousness was entirely justified.

Main meal:
It was another curry. Again, heavy on the rice, but as a broccoli fiend I was relieved to get some green on my plate after two weeks in the states. Dessert and sides were bread, crackers and a fruit pot.

This time no jam, instead , “52% vegetable oil whipped spread”. The other 48% of the ingredients were not listed. With minimal options and the knowledge that Thomas Cook would have thrown it away anyway, I took it on faith that the spread they served me in a vegan meal would be vegan.

…then, when I got home, I contacted the manufacturer.

The first thing I spotted on the information sheet I was sent was the claim ‘lactose free’. At that point my heart sank and the rage kicked in. As any vegan (or anyone with basic ingredient and allergen knowledge, say, someone responsible for compiling in flight food at a multinational firm) would know, lactose is just one part of milk, and removing it doesn’t make a product dairy free. Apparently Thomas Cook didn’t have enough fucks to give to check this out.
Sure enough, all the way down the ingredients list, the last ingredient to be listed… was whey. FUCKING WHEY.
Rating: -10/10 for actually not being vegan.

Breakfast:
I had pretty low expectations at this point, even without yet knowing about the whey-spread. Again, it was another fail at basic veganism, as I was served an oats & honey cereal bar, another pot of fruit (sort of on the fizzy side of ripe) and some orange juice.

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As soon as the steward handed me the bag, I said, ‘excuse me, this isn’t actually vegan’. Super polite. Her response: ‘Well, that’s what I’ve been given.” No apology or attempt to rectify it, or even to ask why it isn’t vegan so they get it right next time. Did not give one shit. She didn’t even look at me as she replied, it was a pretty strong brush off. Fortunately, after having been cramped in that tiny plane (don’t even get me started on the oxymoron that is ‘leg room’ on that flight) I felt so sick that I didn’t want to eat anyway. So we’re all winners aren’t we.
Rating: -15/10 for both the fact that it wasn’t vegan and for not caring that it wasn’t vegan.

The results
I contacted Thomas Cook twice with my complaints and advising then I was working on this write up, but their response time for a complaint is 28 days. So they either receive a LOT of complaints, or there’s like one person responding to them all. Either way it doesn’t look good, and after three weeks of waiting I decided I’d given them long enough. I’ll update this post if they ever do respond.

Overall, it’s a grand total of -16 points out of a possible 60. And I didn’t even deduct anything for no soy milk on the return flight either, as at this point in the game it would be like kicking a puppy. And that wouldn’t be very vegan.


**THOMAS COOK’S RESPONSE** (Dated 13th October)

Amount of fucks given = 0.

Dear Miss Dempsey

Thanks for getting in touch us about your holiday to Florida. I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy your in-flight meals.
We work hard to offer a choice of food for you to enjoy and offer meals to suit all tastes but it is hard to find options for everyone to enjoy. Considering the number of customers that fly with us and the feedback we’ve received about our meals, I’m sorry these were not to your liking.

We want you to know how much we value your feedback and we’re really sorry you weren’t happy.
We hope you continue to travel with us and will use your feedback to improve the service we offer our customers.

No apology for THE FOOD NOT EVEN BEING VEGAN.

No apology for zero help from the steward.

I’ve naturally kicked off at them again but they just don’t care enough to reply. Imagine if they hurt your child or lost your luggage or something – it’s literally the slowest and least arsed “customer service” I’ve experienced in my life.

Everybody yurts, sometimes (well, they should)

Have you ever stayed in a yurt? I hadn’t until last month, and wasn’t really sure what they were. Is glamping hipster? Or has it become cliche now? How much glam does a campsite require to evolve into a glampsite? These existential questions must prey on all our minds from time to time, but I would urge you to leave your worries at the tiny little hobbit door and enter the world of yurting (note: I don’t think that’s a real verb).

We stayed at Cae Wennol yurts, about 20 minutes drive from Betws-y-coed and 40 minutes from Snowdon. The site has three yurts, as well as an outdoor pizza oven, individual bbq areas and an open-air communal kitchen. There are ponds with dragonflies, rabbits peeping their little noses about, and cheeky magpies thinking they own the place. It’s a weirdly magical place.

All of the yurts have names, and ours was called Seren. It was equipped with a double bed and futon, as well as drawers, a chair and tables, and a wood burner complete with chimney. The floor is made of wood with rugs to keep your feet warm. It was decorated in a middle-eastern inspired “rustic” theme that made it feel like a real home. It definitely didn’t feel like a tent, more like when you are a child and you dream of making your wendy house into a real house to live in your garden forever.

 

On the first night we made a valiant effort with the outdoor pizza oven, with mixed results. We had trouble getting it hot enough, and in the end resorted to creating a thin garlic flatbread, using our pizza ingredients to create a pasta instead. I made the pizza dough from scratch without scales, weights or measurements, rolling my sleeves up in the open air kitchen with a G&T at my side and using a pint glass as a rolling pin. It was just perfect.

 

On the second night, after an exhausting trek up Snowdon and a second (this time successful) visit to the Swallow Falls we had a simpler BBQ/salad outside our yurt before collapsing into bed. That night I was so happy we weren’t sleeping on the floor of a tent, and my weary legs really valued the support and softness of a real bed! Although the yurt had a log burner inside, we found it really warm, and were throwing blankets off the bed rather than needing to worry about keeping warm. Those padded walls are really insulating.

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Each of the three yurts has its own individual “loo shed”, with a real basin and a compost toilet. There was also an eco shower, complete with hot water running off into pebbles under your feet. The whole site felt a bit like Alice in Wonderland meets Eden – one morning when I woke up and came out of the yurt, I saw six baby bunnies sprinting across the path in front of me, as if playing that now the humans are awake, it’s time to run! Another morning, as I entered the open air kitchen, a magpie flew out with a whole slice of bread in his beak – I entered to find that someone had left a new loaf on the sideboard rather than in a cupboard, and the magpie has worked his way in through the plastic to steal a cheeky snack.

 

It felt magical to have these home comforts of real beds, hot water and pizza ovens while running round barefoot and huddling around a fire. I’d return in a heartbeat and would recommend the site to anyone else staying in the area.

K xx