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Almost vegan in Europe: one year later

August 22, 2010

Exactly one year ago today, I departed for the trip of a lifetime: five weeks in Europe. It had been a dream of mine since childhood to go to there, and I was finally able to do it. I ventured there alone, with one lone suitcase and swirling feelings of both excitement and anxiety.

For 35 days, I traveled by bus (except in and around Greece, which was by sea) with 20 or so strangers-cum-friends (mostly Australians!) through 11 countries, 30 cities, and innumerable sites and spaces. I saw, experienced, and ate so much along the way that not even my 124 pages of journaling could give a full picture. But when I got back, I tried – focusing on the food, of course – to do just that on this blog. It took me three months, but I chronicled my entire journey here, and it’s the first place I go when I want to relive any part of it. Since many/most of you weren’t reading my blog at that time, I want to share those posts with you. All these same links are also in my easy-to-access travels page, but here I want to offer extremely brief (and hopefully enticing enough to earn your clicks!) synopses of my adventures in each city.

On my transatlantic flights, I was impressed by the quality of the veg meals served on the plane.

In London, England, I didn’t get to sightsee much, but I did get to eat at a vegan buffet and a devilishly good pizza place.

I ogled European service station food on my way to Paris, France, where I then ate a fabulous multi-course dinner and took a nighttime cruise on the river Seine with my new traveling companions.

The next day in Paris, I ascended the Eiffel Tower, explored the Louvre, and ate amazing crêpes before seeing a dazzling show at the Moulin Rouge that evening and drinking into the night with the group.

In Bordeaux, France, I drank some exquisite red wine on a café terrace at night in front of a stunning cathedral.

I had a pastry-rific breakfast in Pamplona, Spain, and visited a cathedreal in Burgos.

In Madrid, Spain, I sipped sangria and dined on a great vegetarian paella in la Plaza Mayor before going to a salsa bar. The next day, a small group of us shopped along el Puerto del Sol, prowled the Prado museum, and topped it off with a tapas dinner.

In Barcelona, Spain, I visited la Sagrada Familia, Gaudí’s architectural masterpiece, and ate dinner at a Spanish buffet restaurant.

The next day in Barcelona, I experienced the unbelievable food market on Las Ramblas, enjoyed my fresh snacks at Park Güell, ate another buffet dinner, was blown away by a flamenco show, and partied the night away afterward.

In Nice, France, I ate dinner on the French Riviera, waking up early the next day to run alongside the Mediterranean Sea before spending hours swimming in it. That evening I ate a breathtaking dinner at a villa above le Grand Corniche before visiting Monte Carlo, Monaco, for an exhilarating night of drinking and gambling.

I saw the Leaning Tower of Pisa before arriving in Florence, Italy, where I ate pizza, saw Michelangelo’s David at the Accademia, and shopped till I dropped before a huge dinner at a Tuscan vineyard in the Chianti Hills, followed by the most creative cocktails ever.

In Rome, Italy, I saw the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain, the Piazza Navona, the Pantheon, Vatican City, St. Peter’s Basilica, the Sistine Chapel, and the Colosseum (WHEW!), and ate such Italian favorites as pizza, pasta, pesto, risotto, gelato, and tiramisu.

I ate more pizza and napped on the beach in Capri , Italy, then sampled limoncello and ate another buffet dinner in Sorrento. In the shadow of Mt. Vesuvius, I saw the ruins of Pompeii the next day.

An overnight ferry took me to Athens, Greece, where I saw the Parthenon and ate dinner (and baklava!) at a taverna downtown.

So began a 3-day cruise of the Greek Isles. I ate the strangest gyro ever in Mykonos, Greece.

An excursion to Kusadasi, Turkey, allowed me to see the house of the Virgin Mary, visit the ruins at Ephesus, and experience a crazy Turkish bazaar.

In Patmos, Greece, I hiked a mountain to visit the monastery of St. John.

Then, in Santorini, Greece, I hiked up an active volcano! I visited the Oracle at Delphi before leaving Greece the next day.

In Venice, Italy, I ate a pasta dinner, sailed the Grand Canal by night, and drank bellini in St. Mark’s Square.

The next day in Venice, right after visiting the Murano glass factory, the rainstorm of the century occurred. I still bought a beautiful mask, toured the Doge’s Palace, and ate (and drank) a pub dinner, but you won’t believe what that downpour did to us.

In Vienna, Austria, I was surprised how much I loved the food, and how sensational the trip to the opera and ballet was.

The next day in Vienna, I toured Schönbrunn Palace and the Habsburg crypts, had authentic Viennese coffee and Sacher Torte at the Hotel Sacher, visited Freud’s house and a Schnaps factory, and had the most bewilderingly wacky (but scrumptious!) dinner at a country mansion.

In picturesque Salzburg, Austria, I went to a farmers market and saw the house where Mozart was born.

In Munich, Germany, I saw the Glockenspiel at the Marienplatz before taking the train to…Oktoberfest! Donning my new dirndl, I drank a dizzying amount and had one of the most wild, fun, crazy nights of the trip and my life.

I toured the fairytale castle at Neuschwanstein, nestled in the Bavarian Alps of Germany, before an uneventful stop in Liechtenstein.

In Lucerne, Switzerland, I found myself delighted by the food and uniquely-Swiss entertainment.

The next day in Lucerne, I rode to the top of Mt. Pilatus (7000 feet!), ate too many Swiss pastries, ran alongside Lake Lucerne, and ended an excellent dinner with chocolate fondue.

In Strasbourg, France, I admired the cathedral, rode a carousel, ate gelato, and bought French cookies/biscuits.

Heidelberg, Germany, I food-shopped and ate a rustic, very German restaurant dinner.

After a morning cruise along the Rhine River through the Black Forest, I visited Cologne, Germany, and ate Middle Eastern food in the shadow of their awe-inspiring cathedral.

In Amsterdam, Netherlands, I had a marvelous Indian meal before strolling through the Red Light District.

The next day in Amsterdam, I visited a Dutch fishing village and Anne Frank’s house before dinner at a floating Asian restaurant. After a nighttime canal cruise, I went to the Grasshopper (pot bar, uh-oh!) and wandered the Red Light District even more.

I came back through London on my way home, eating some Indian food on the ferry first. (I accidentally also re-blogged about that pizza place!)

I was gushy and emotional, but grateful and inspired, in my wrap-up post. And now, a year later, I look back on all this and am still amazed by and in awe of everything I saw and did. This solo trip to Europe was the gutsiest thing I think I’ve ever done. Were there negative consequences stemming from it? I’ll be honest: yes, there were. I still struggle with some of them, and I’ll admit I have not met all the goals I set for myself upon my return. But I can say with certitude that I would not give up this experience for anything in the world. I am eternally thankful I had this opportunity, and all these unforgettable memories will reside in my heart for the rest of my life.

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20 Comments leave one →
  1. August 22, 2010 9:33 pm

    And wouldn’t you say that one of the best things to come out of the trip is that I found your blogpost about it while embarking (or before embarking… I can’t remember precisely) on my own travels, told myself to be courageous and delurk to tell you how awesome reading them were, and that we thereby discovered our soulmateness? Because, on my part, that’s been pretty wonderful 🙂

    And don’t stress yourself out too much about the goals you’re working towards, okies? ‘Cause you’re wonderful and gorgeous and things like that have no impact on how much we all love you or, for example, the fact that you WILL get to Matthew Kenney’s raw food course in the future. xoxo

    • Amber Shea @Almost Vegan permalink
      August 23, 2010 9:42 am

      I would TOTALLY say that! So funny that, out of all the friends I made thanks to this trip, one of the best turned out to be a person I never actually physically met!

      Thank you for your encouragement too 😀 It means more than you probably know.

      • August 23, 2010 8:26 pm

        Aww 🙂 But we will be in person – I have no doubts about that. And I’m here for such encouragement whenever, wherever (lucky my breasts are small and humble?!) (Okay, I really hope you get that, othersie I’ll seem incredibly strange) – seriously, you can email me anytime you’re feeling a little down. Speaking of, I believe there’s an email in my inbox right now that I’m yet to peek at… 😀

        • Amber Shea @Almost Vegan permalink
          August 24, 2010 8:18 am

          Ok, I did not get that reference at all, but I looked it up and now find it quite funny ;P There is indeed email4u! Feel free to procrastinate as long as you need to on replying, because clearly I took my time responding to yours =/ I sorry!

  2. August 22, 2010 11:12 pm

    I’ve actually read most of your travel entries already! I would like to know more about how you prepared for the trip, did you book any of it through a particular agency or the like?, do you still keep in touch with the people you met?, etc.

    And can you also elaborate on this?: Were there negative consequences stemming from it? I’ll be honest: yes, there were. I still struggle with some of them, and I’ll admit I have not met all the goals I set for myself upon my return.

    • Amber Shea @Almost Vegan permalink
      August 23, 2010 10:00 am

      Good questions! I booked a tour with a company called Trafalgar. The price ($5200 through AffordableTours.com) included all accommodations, continental transportation, hotel fees, taxes, tips, porterage charges, guided tours through almost all the cities, daily breakfasts, about half the dinners, and more I can’t even remember. Basically, all I had to pay for was the round-trip flight overseas ($900), snacks and a handful of dinners, tickets for shows and such (like the Moulin Rouge in Paris, the flamenco show in Barcelona, and the opera in Vienna), and of course souvenirs. I honestly never thought I could spend 5 weeks in Europe, and see ALL those places, for <$7000 (not counting souvenirs!), but as I learned, it can be done!

      Another interesting thing: I booked it literally two weeks before embarking. I NEVER make decisions that fast. But if I'd given myself more time to debate it, I probably would have come up with too many reasons NOT to go, so I'm glad I bit the bullet and just went for it. (The deciding factor was my work saying they were ok with it, which I didn't truly expect, so when they did, I just HAD to do it.) So, my preparation was lightning-fast, but the good thing about a one-suitcase limit is you don't have to figure out much to pack! Money prep was the main thing; getting a debit card, notifying my bank I'd be overseas, paying ahead all the bills that would be due during my time away (I didn't have a computer or even a phone over there!). Besides that, the biggest task was just calming myself down :]

      I do still keep in contact with my new friends from the trip! Everyone’s busy, including me, AND most of them are in Australia (!), so Facebook has been invaluable. I didn’t have one when I left, but during the trip, my companions convinced me I had to get one when I got back :] So I did! I’ve also met back up with two of them when I happened to be in their town—one in L.A. and one in Chicago.

      Ah yes, those negative consequences…they're a bit complex, and rather personal. Since you asked, though, I'll email you with a summary :] Thanks for the thoughtful comment, and I hoped I helped answer your Q's!

      • August 24, 2010 8:49 am

        This was great to know! With only 2 weeks to go until departure, I’d be freaking out a little, too, but I love that you went ahead and DID IT! Life is too short to debate everything. Good for you!

        What’s up next for you as far as travel?

        • Amber Shea @Almost Vegan permalink
          August 24, 2010 10:20 am

          Oh, man…I wish I knew! I flirted with the idea of Scandinavia-Russia-Eastern Europe this summer…but the time has passed. I’m dreaming of South America in the winter…but I’m not too confident I could manage it. I was very seriously considering Egypt in November…but that is way up in the air now, and doesn’t look promising. I don’t even have any road trips scheduled at the moment, so I hope to at least remedy that, then get to work on making more int’l travel happen for me.

  3. August 23, 2010 8:38 am

    Wow! What a fantastic experience. Truly something to treasure forever! Not traveling more before I had a family is something I regret. Not enough to keep me up at night or anything, but still a small regret. Now, I hope to remedy that by traveling with my son and experiencing new things with his little perspective along!

    I applaud you for going alone and making new friends along the way! Before I got married and had my son, I used to love to do things alone…dinner, movies, plays, day trips, etc. It’s such a different experience when you are the sole captain of your ship…you can sail it anywhere on a whim!

    As soon as I have some free moments, I plan to delve further into your travel recaps. Thanks for sharing!

    • Amber Shea @Almost Vegan permalink
      August 23, 2010 10:09 am

      I was afraid of someday regretting not doing something like this, so that was one motivation for me jumping at the chance when it came along. But I really hope to travel as extensively as possible someday with my future family and share the experiences with them, so I think it’s GREAT that you plan to travel with your son!

      I agree, though, that traveling (or doing anything, really) on your own is a whole different experience. It was hard sometimes – I admit I got lonely – but it was also extremely liberating to cater to no one and nothing but me and my own whims 😀 I love your “captain of your own ship” metaphor.

      I look forward to any comments you leave on my travel posts :] Thank you so much for reading!

  4. Lilly permalink
    August 23, 2010 12:53 pm

    Amber, I just read your blog…what a splendid experience!!!!! Forget “Eat, Pray, Love!” I say “Almost Vegan Blog!” Were you able to get any of your travels on video?????

    • Amber Shea @Almost Vegan permalink
      August 24, 2010 8:23 am

      Thank you so much! I didn’t get much video, but I DO have 2200 photos! Haha, if only they’d make a movie about me ;] I’d settle for publishing a memoir, though. Or, hell, even just an article somewhere! You may not remember from when we were kids, but I’ve wanted to be a writer since 1st grade, and that still stands. If you know anyone at all involved in publishing or the like, I’d be ever-grateful for a referral!

  5. Melissa permalink
    August 23, 2010 1:05 pm

    I can’t believe it has been a year already!! That was probably the best trip I
    ever took. I can only imagine what it would have been like to stay for the whole
    5 weeks. I will def have to do a longer Europe trip at some point.

    • Amber Shea @Almost Vegan permalink
      August 24, 2010 8:25 am

      I KNOW!! It’s unreal. A year ago RIGHT NOW we were in PARIS! Eating crêpes, stealing baguettes from the Moulin Rouge, getting drunk with Greg for the first of many times…::le sigh:: AND we still need to hang out again someday! It’s non-negotiable! :]

  6. August 24, 2010 11:09 pm

    Oh, Amber. What I wouldn’t give to have seen and tasted what you have. The farther along I go in life, the more I fear I will never be able to take a trip like this. Consider yourself very lucky! (And I know you do 🙂 ) I am glad that you have posted all of these wonderful memories for us to hear about. 🙂

    • Amber Shea @Almost Vegan permalink
      August 25, 2010 9:35 am

      So you’ve read all my Europe posts? 😀 That makes me so happy! I wish I could have taken you with me :] I was indeed very very lucky to get to do that. Keep dreaming and scheming, though, and someday I know you will make it too.

  7. August 25, 2010 3:03 pm

    sounds so fun; what I loved the most about this post was the enthusiasm I felt throughout! Having lived in France, I can relate to the beauty of it all. Would love to visit Turkey and Greece and to go back to France, heck, maybe even live there again.

    • Amber Shea @Almost Vegan permalink
      August 25, 2010 3:07 pm

      Thank you so much, Joumana! Although many parts of Athens were somewhat grimy, the Greek isles were utterly stunning. I was only in Turkey briefly, but it was delightful as well.

      You lived in France? Oh, you lucky woman! :]

  8. Mom permalink
    August 25, 2010 7:20 pm

    I cannot believe it’s been a year since you left for Europe. Goes to show you how fast time really does fly by. What memories you will always have! Dad and I are happy that it was everything you hoped it would be (and perhaps, then some)… Love, love!

    • Amber Shea @Almost Vegan permalink
      August 25, 2010 8:53 pm

      I can’t believe it either…I wish I could do it (or something similar) again. Though it had its ups, down, pros, cons, and surprises, it was definitely everything I hoped it would be, and more.

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