Tuesday, 27 September 2016

A Basic Guide To Veganism

I am assuming you are here because you want to go vegan, you are a new vegan or you're interested in learning more about living a vegan lifestyle. When I became vegan I was unsure about everything and I had no idea. I wished I had a mentor or someone to guide me, now, 1 year and 5 months later, I have learned quite a lot and I want to share my knowledge with you. I'm no expert, but I think I can give a pretty good guide for people who aren't sure where to start.

Lets begin!

The Diet Aspect

It is a common misconception that veganism is a diet, but remember that veganism is a lifestyle choice, when you go vegan you'll change many things about your life, not just the food you eat. Due to the effects animal agriculture has on the environment & the effects consuming animal products can have on your health, the diet is the the best place to start. Before you change your diet, you're going to have to do some research. Your body has been used to animal products, so when you cut them out your body may have withdrawal symptoms, and you might confuse these feelings with being hungry.

You may well be hungry, because when you switch to a plant based diet your portions will have to be a lot bigger, vegetables have less calories than meat & meat takes up to 3 days to fully digest and pass through your body, but fruit & vegetables take 60 minutes to a couple of hours. So if your portions aren't big enough of course you'll feel hungry. You're not hungry because you need to eat meat!

This is why researching before changing anything about your diet is important. Read up about nutrition, you don't need to see your doctor, as doctors don't know much about nutrition. I'd recommend seeing a dietitian or nutritionist, but be careful as some of them are very brainwashed by the meat and dairy industries, try seeing a plant based nutritionist if possible. Only see your doctor if you want to, but they can't offer much advice. It would be a good idea to get your blood levels tested prior, just to see if there's anything you are low in. The only supplement you will ever need to take as a vegan is B12, as B12 is only found in dirt, and I can't imagine its very nice to eat!

Some good books to read are: The China Study & How Not To Die, alternatively, watch the documentary Forks Over Knives.

Useful links:
My advice is to cut out one product at a time, if that is what works best for you. Try maybe cutting out eggs, then dairy, then meat and eventually all animal products. Not necessarily in that order, a good way of doing it is by deciding which you like the least and what makes you feel the worst. Do you break out after eating dairy products? Does red meat make you feel sluggish and gross? Think about those things.

No one is going to shun you for not being 100% vegan straight away, as long as you do your best and your end goal is to be vegan, then you're doing great. Congratulations on choosing to live a healthier and more compassionate life!

Just make sure you read labels. It is SO important that you remember to check labels of everything you buy, even drinks. Of course you will only need to do this for the first couple of times you go grocery shopping, because then you'll get to know what products it is you can have and enjoy. To be honest, I actually enjoy reading labels, its become a habit for me now and even when I know the ingredients I still check. Just to be sure the recipe hasn't changed, besides, its good to know what you are putting into your body!

There will be some pretty obvious things to look out for on packets such as eggs and milk, which are usually in bold, but remember to look out for E Numbers. The last thing you want is accidentally buying something and finding out it contains crushed beetles! (yep, that's right, crushed beetles, known as cochineal or carmine)

Find out about E Numbers here: Vegan Friendly E Numbers

A good way of knowing if something is vegan, is a vegan label:

Remember that products labeled as Vegetarian can also be suitable for vegans, providing they are free from eggs & dairy. A good example of this is Bisto Gravy Granules in the red tub.

The clothes aspect

Things to avoid: Leather, wool, fur, suede, angora, silk & down (feathers)

These all come from animals, and sadly, the way they are "harvested" is extremely inhumane and cruel, its unnecessary and you don't need to use these products. People believe that these materials are the best quality but it is not true, you can get so many different clothing items and shoes made from sustainable and or synthetic materials which are just as good a quality and no animals were skinned alive or abused for them. 

If you're not sure if a product is vegan, its easy to find out. If you are shopping online, there should be the materials listed in the information. If you are in a shop, usually the labels inside the clothing state the materials.

The same applies to footwear, usually its easy to tell when footwear isn't vegan because of this handy little chart:

Obviously if you see the leather symbol, avoid at all costs. The textile and other materials are fabrics and man made materials, therefore no animal skin would have been used. The labels can also be used on furniture, so keep an eye out.

Remember to research beforehand if you're looking to buy a new pair of  shoes, as some brands use animal derived glues. Nike have been known to use animal glue, for example. I know it might seem like a lot of effort, but its worth it. Thankfully there's some brands which have vegan ranges e.g. Dr. Marten, Birkenstock & Vans. These are just a few examples.

Useful links:

The Cosmetics & Toiletries Aspect.

First of all, I just want to say that if you already have things that are not vegan, please do not throw them out. This will not benefit anyone & it is wasteful. You already paid for them so just use them up and then replace them with cruelty free products.

Unfortunately, a lot of household favourite brands test on animals, or use animal byproduct in their ingredients, such as Unilever & L'Oreal. It is important to remember that sadly, cruelty free doesn't always mean vegan. Be sure to look out for things like honey, bee pollen, carmine, lanolin etc. As these are NOT vegan.

Useful links:

Some of the things listed apply to clothing and food as well, its basically an essential list for all things to avoid as a vegan in general.

There's some great brands which are cruelty free, such as LUSH, who are known for fighting against animal cruelty. A lot of their products are vegan, some have the vegan society trademark on, and some just state it on the back of the bottle where the ingredients are listed. They do have some products which contain things like honey and beeswax etc, so just look out for those. LUSH have products suitable for men, women & children so they are family friendly.

In the UK, Morrisons & The Co-Op have the leaping bunny logo on a lot of their own brand shower gels, shampoos, conditioners etc. There are 3 main cruelty free logos to look out for:

My personal favourite makeup brands are Barry M & Too Faced, they are both cruelty free but not 100% vegan. Thankfully though, their websites state quite clearly which products are suitable for vegans, which is so great! Barry M is sold in places like Superdrug & Boots and is affordable. Too Faced is a little more high end and slightly pricier.

A great website for finding out more information is Cruelty Free Kitty, updated regularly about cruelty free brands and which brands have vegan products. Just remember that if a brand sells in Mainland China, they are required by law to test on animals in order to sell there. An example of this is MAC Cosmetics. If you buy from MAC you are funding animal testing. Don't worry if MAC was your favourite brand, there's plenty of brands which are just as good, or in my opinion, better, which do not test on animals.

Sidenote: Some cruelty free brands are owned by non-cruelty free brands. For example, Urban Decay are owned by L'Oreal who are absolutely notorious for testing on animals. You are not directly funding the animal testing if you buy Urban Decay, however you are still indirectly supporting L'Oreal. How I see it, is that if we show a high demand for the cruelty free and vegan products, we are proving to these big names such as L'Oreal, that it is what people prefer. Eventually, hopefully they will take notice and change their policies. It depends on your own beliefs.

The Household Aspect

The same thing mentioned above applies to household cleaning products. A great brand that is labelled with the leaping bunny logo is Astonish. They are cruelty free AND vegan and have a wide range of products to keep your house nice and clean. Find out more at: Astonish & the same goes for Morrison's & The Co-Op, their own brand cleaning products are cruelty free.

As I mentioned about the furniture shopping, be sure to look out for the leather logo on sofas and armchairs.

If you have children, or if you just like going on fun days out. Instead of going to The Zoo, Aquarium or places like Seaworld, find your nearest farm sanctuary. If you're headed on holiday, look online to see if there's any sanctuaries or conservations nearby to where you are staying. Make sure you really do some research on this topic to ensure you're putting your money into a good cause and not a scam.

Other things to avoid are: Circuses, elephant trekking, Tiger Kingdom, swimming with dolphins, anywhere that has an animal on a tether or a chain, elephant painting, crocodile farms, snake charming, bear parks & dancing monkeys.

Spending time with animals and letting them be themselves as well as getting to know their personalities is much more fun than looking at them through a glass window or watching them perform unnatural behaviors.

Some great examples:

The Emotional Aspect

I am guessing that because you want to go vegan, you saw something which made you want to change? Whether it was Earthlings, Cowspiracy, or even a video on Facebook. I am guessing it made you really sad? Well, that is totally normal, and thank goodness you have compassion in your heart. You've made a great step forward in life. Unfortunately, some people don't see it this way, people can be cold hearted, mean and ignorant, and it really gets to you. I know from experience. 

My first week of being vegan, I hated everyone. I just wanted to shout at people, and you will probably feel like that too, its okay to be angry, you have every right to be upset about what is happening and that people are choosing to ignore it. It is extremely frustrating, but it all comes down to the animals. They are what matters and what you need to speak out for. Its important to remain logical and don't let your emotions show too much, the animals need us to stay strong and logical for them. As much as you want to knock that burger out of your friends hand and call her a murderer, just remain calm, and keep telling them about how delicious your veggie burger tastes. 

Its good to do some research on the issues such as animal agriculture and environment. Its important that you know the facts so that you can shutdown any argument people try and have with you, trust me, it will happen a lot. The more facts you have, the more you can educate people. Don't worry about other peoples opinions and closed minds, because they don't matter. What matters is standing up for what you believe in, speaking fact and educating people on the effects animal agriculture is having on our environment & how cruel the meat, dairy and egg industries are. For every person that responds negatively, there will be someone that responds positively. Focus on these people.

Its really important that we don't hurt the cause, and unfortunately by being angry all the time, you can hurt the cause. I find that a good way to let it out is to write it all down, there are lots of vegan Facebook groups which are great for ranting in. These groups will be full of people that understand and it helps a lot to get it off your chest without being called crazy and extreme. Speaking of, you will find that being vegan can be quite isolating if you don't know any vegans, but don't worry, find your nearest vegan restaurant and talk to people in there, put yourself out there, get networking. Maybe even contact The Vegan Society and ask if there's a vegan group local to you. There's lots of different vegan festivals and events that take place in the UK, these are the perfect opportunities to meet like minded people & make new friends. You are not alone, and you have made a great choice. 

I really hope that this has been helpful. Being vegan is the best choice I ever made, and I am sure it will be yours too. For more information on why I went vegan & for more useful links and resources, read my vegan story.

Sunday, 18 September 2016


WARNING: This post contains some graphic images some viewers may find upsetting or disturbing.

During my stay in Barcelona, I was taking a very frantic stroll down Las Ramblas (you will understand why it was frantic if you've ever been, pick pockets galore) & I noticed a couple of horses on the road-side. Behind them, of course, was a carriage & a very bored and miserable looking man, whom I assume was the driver. Of course, naturally, seeing this put quite a downer on my day. It was 30 degrees, there was no shade over them & the roads surrounding them were busy.

I imagined how I would feel if it were me in the horses position. I don't like being in the sun for too long, I don't like busy roads & I don't like being controlled by someone else. I assume most humans feel this way, we need to cool off from the sun sometimes, roads are dangerous and no one likes being told what to do. So, if that's how most of us feel, why would certain people choose to inflict that on another being? Especially since they can't talk and tell us how they feel. That my friends, is the definition of exploitation.

Horse drawn carriages date all the way back to the late 1800's. Back then, people used them to get around, they were a form of transport, the horses helped get people from point A to B. They didn't have the same methods of transport that we have now. It was a pretty standard thing to happen back then, but now, in 2016. We have cars, motorbikes, mopeds, scooters, bicycles, trains, trams, buses, trucks.. I could continue. So, why on earth do horse drawn carriages still exist? I'll tell you why.

Tradition. Some people really like tradition, horses are elegant and majestic, they certainly turn heads if they're taking someone to a wedding or a fancy do, like a school prom. In the past I've seen horse drawn carriages and I've always thought they were really cool, they look good, the horses are so beautiful and its like a fairytale. Now, however, I understand that it's not all what it seems, in fact, what these horses go through is far from a fairytale.

I'm definitely not an expert on horses, but I think its pretty easy to tell when they're not happy. Tell me, do these horses look happy to you?
These horses are stood there all day (10 hours or more) with their heads low, looking pretty sad and fed up. I mean, can you blame them? I'll say it again, it was 30 degrees. Do you see any buckets of water for them? Do you see any buckets of food for them? Do you see any form of stimulation for them? I don't really see how standing around all day waiting for the next group of unsuspecting tourists is a fun life for these beautiful, majestic creatures.

There has been countless news articles about horse drawn carriage accidents. Horses are forced to navigate busy roads and oncoming traffic. Horses don't have brakes, or indicators. Horses are a lot smaller and lighter than a car or a bus, when they collide with cars, the horse will turn out either severely injured, or dead. Guess how that can be avoided? If people stopped using them for their own enjoyment. I mentioned how horses were used for transport many years ago, but that's not necessary now. These carriages are purely for peoples personal enjoyment and entertainment.

Horse drawn carriages can also be used as part of funeral processions. The thing is, funerals are already so sad, why risk it ending in even more tragedy? Of course, cars crash all the time, but horses aren't always as easily seen as oncoming cars. This is a photo from an accident in February of this year. A womans funeral was ruined because a car crashed into the horse pulling her coffin in the carriage, and killed the horse. It is absolutely awful and could've easily been avoided.
Source: Wales Online
As if all of this wasn't awful enough, horses are also whipped in the process of them pulling carriages, which I can imagine is already stressful enough given they are on the road, navigating traffic. I can't imagine that's very pleasant. How would you like to be whipped? And I'm not talking about the 50 Shades of Grey kind.

Quite recently in the news was a horse, Norman who is 14 years old. Norman collapsed after being pushed to exhaustion by the "driver". He was far too tired and he could barely get himself together, but it gets worse. Norman was navigating the roaring, busy roads of New York city. Luckily he wasn't run over or injured during his collapse.

Source: http://www.holidogtimes.com/this-old-horse-collapsed-in-the-street-after-being-pushed-past-his-limits/#gs.x8RFNJ4
There are no hidden agenda's here. I am not hating on people for using horse drawn carriages, just like the elephant trekking in Thailand, its the only way some of these people make money, but there is a better way. Using animals as a way to make money and for entertainment is outdated and a thing of the past. In some ways, people that use animals to make money are lazy, there are other ways they could make money, they simply just don't want to work for it. Tourists are always going to fall for cute animals, these people know that and use it to their full advantage. Don't be fooled. There is always some form of cruelty involved in any form of animal entertainment.

Don't be a part of another horse drawn carriage accident.

As usual. I'll leave a list of useful links and sources:

5 Things You Didin't Know About Horse Drawn Carriages: http://aldf.org/blog/5-things-you-didnt-know-about-the-carriage-horse-industry/

Horse drawn carriage accident leaves 7 injured: http://wtop.com/maryland/2016/07/car-crashes-horse-buggy-md/

Thursday, 15 September 2016

A packing guide for backpacking newbies: hot country edition

Suitcase: Check
Lots of underwear: Check
Lots of socks: Check
Pretty clothes: Check
My entire makeup bag: Check
Full size Shampoo/conditioner and bodywash: Check
Nice shoes, trainers and flip flops: Check
WRONG, so wrong. This is an insight to my packing list when I went travelling last year, for the first time. There's more than what I've listed but I'll be here forever, which is the point I am trying to make, I packed way too much, and it was too heavy, inconvenient and I didn't even use half the stuff I packed. I don't want another newbie to make the same silly mistakes as me, which is why I'm going to tell you what I'm packing this time around, and why some of the things I've listed are unncecessary, although some may be pretty obvious, let me explain.

Suitcase: When you plan on staying in hostels, moving around a lot and you're a solo traveller. A suitcase isn't ideal. My suitcase was a limited edition samsonite, which was way too expensive, and a target for thieves. I liked it because it had a pretty floral design on it which would be easy to spot on the conveyer. When I eventually got to my first accomodation, I was greeted with a nice long flight of stairs, luckily the lady at the desk carried my suitcase up for me, but I felt terrible because she was a tiny Thai woman and if you know Thais, then you know they won't let you do it yourself, but girrrrl she had muscle. When I went to open my suitcase, I noticed that, oh, it was open? The airline must've thrown it about and broken the lock system so that it pinged open, so, that was a huge smack in the face. From then on, everywhere I went, there were stairs, rocky paths, and teeny tiny lockers. Not ideal. The whole time, I thought "should've brought a backpack, I really, really should've brought a backpack" that's why this time around, I'll be using a backpack, they don't call it backpacking for nothin'

Depending on the type of activities you're doing, you can use a fairly small rucksack. If you know how to pack, and you pack carefully, you can fit a lot in there, its like a Mary Poppins kinda thing. My bag can hold up to 50L which is more than enough for me.

You can find the bag pictured above here

Pretty clothes: Ok, I said pretty clothes to sum it up. What this means is really nice clothes that you'd wear to an evening meal, or dinner and drinks. Classy, elegant clothes. I'm neither of those things so I don't know why I had that idea. Its good to have a couple of nice tops or a dress, but you probably won't really wear them. I had at least 2 dresses which I never even came close to wearing. In all honesty, you'll probably end up living in the same outfit for a couple of days because going out and exploring is way more important than looking good. Of course, have the odd day where you make an effort so you can take tumblr-esque photographs of you walking along the beach in the sunset if that's your thing, but dont overdo it. Don't waste half an hour choosing an outfit when you could be out, in a foreign land, meeting the locals and having a grand old time. Imagine if you got to the bar where all your new found friends were waiting, and the first thing they say is "ah you missed it.." NOT COOL!

I like the idea of packing, and then taking half out. If you pack 8 t-shirts, really think about why you've packed 8 t-shirts, you don't need 8, lets be honest. Who needs 8 t-shirts? You'll probably end up topless on the beach, or hiking up to a viewpoint, t-shirt shmeeshirt, leave them behind! Pack 4. This applies to socks and underwear too, you really don't need a pair for every day, if you have to, turn them inside out, or wash them in the sink with shampoo, or if you're really adventurous, go commando. You know you want to.

Entire makeup bag, really Hannah? REALLY? I strongly advise that you don't even take makeup if you're confident enough without it. If you're going to a hot country, you probably won't wear it half of the time, and when you do it will just sweat off, make your face a mess and cause breakouts. Not fun. I did wear makeup last year, but this was on evenings when it was cooler, I just filled in my eyebrows, put on eyeshadow,eyeliner & mascara and a little highlight, that's it. I didn't use concealer or foundation because by then it didn't match my skin, and oh lordy wearing foundation that doesn't match your skin is not a good look. I know some of you may not even wear makeup, which is also great, you don't even have to worry about this section!

Full size shampoo/conditioner and bodywash? Why was I even allowed to do this on my own? My reason for doing this, was that using cruelty free and vegan products is important, and I don't want to give my money to a brand that tests on animals, and I thought that might be hard in another country. This time around, I've looked everywhere for vegan friendly and cruelty free products which are travel sized and I found some, it was easy, and they are great products. I recommend that everyone uses cruelty free alternatives of course, they are no more expensive than any other product, easy to find and they're just as good, and, no animals get harmed in the making, which is always amazing. Here's a few of my favourite brands:

Dr Organic - Find travel sized shampoos, conditioners, bodywashes & moisturizers in Holland & Barrett.

Superdrug - All of  their own brand products are labelled as cruelty free and a lot of them are labelled as suitable for vegans, with the leaping bunny logo. They usually have a section in their stores that has travel mini's and a few of them are their own brand.

Lush - All of their products are cruelty free and most are suitable for vegans. They sell nice small bottles and tubs of their products, you can get 100ml sized bottles of shampoo!

Too many pairs of shoes, too many. Flip flops, and comfortable walking shoes, that's all you need. Maybe a nice pair of sandals if you like. I'll be volunteering and then going to beaches and islands, do I really need a pair of wedges or heeled sandals? No way! Think these things through, imagine how much room a pair of wedges would take up.

Other important things you should pack:
  • First aid kit/bug repellent (which can sometimes be included)
  • Sunscreen 
  • A reusable water bottle. You'll need to stay hydrated and in places like Thailand you can't drink the tap water, wherever you see a clean, drinking water dispenser, fill up! Try not to buy too many bottles of water as its a huge waste of plastic and harmful to the environment, save where you can.
  • A raincoat or waterproof poncho, if you're going somewhere with torrential rainfall, this will come in very handy! Or even if you visit a waterfall and don't want to get your clothes wet.
  • A laundry bag, this helps keep your dirty clothes seperate from your clean clothes, you can buy ones that fold up nice and small into a pouch to save room in your bag. I got mine here
  • Something that is also nice and handy, is a wash bag. Good for storing all your makeup, shampoos, bodywash, razors etc and you can often hang them up in the shower instead of trying to carry everything in there with your hands, dropping everything and bending over in a towel in front of James from New York whom you just met 10 minutes ago..
  • I feel like the next item is something everyone needs to have, I am so grateful that they exist. A microfibre towel, often hostels won't provide towels, and if they do you have to pay, and bringing your own normal towel takes up so much room and they take at least 5 years to dry, these towels fold up nice and small in a little pouch, dry you instantly, and then they dry super fast.  
  • Speaking of towels, of coure you'll need a bathing suit.
  • At least 2 cameras, one on your phone, and another of your choice, I'm actually taking my GoPro and a disposable. I say 2 because you'll run out of room on one of them if you're anything like me and take pictures of anything and everything. If you're really savvy though, you could always just take an extra memory card for your camera.
  • Last but not least, and totally optional depending on what kind of person you are, condoms. I don't need to explain that one, but yeah, stay safe.

Everything that isn't listed should be pretty obvious, pajamas, weather appropriate clothing, toothbrush etc. This is aimed at people who haven't been backpacking before, I'm not the most experienced backpacker but I learned quite a lot in just a short trip and I've met people along the way who have given me ideas and advice, I thought I'd share my experience, in the hopes that it helps someone else! I'll be setting off on my trip in 2 days and I am sure I will learn so much more. If you think I missed anything important, let me know! And good luck with your trip!

Vegan food in Barcelona

Spain is quite commonly known for its seafood paella, chorizo and all other kinds of meat based dishes. I know its not the most vegan friendly country in the world, so I thought it might be a bit of a struggle finding decent eateries in Barcelona. I couldn't have been more wrong! I was very well fed during my stay.

I just want to start by saying that you do not need to eat the food of the country to experience the culture. You don't "need" to eat seafood paella, you don't "have" to eat a cone of meat. Food is obviously a big part of certain cultures, but you can experience the culture without it, besides, you can recreate traditional dishes with plant based ingredients easily!

My first stop was at a place called Veggie Garden. They had a mixture of Spanish and Asian dishes. It was quite an interesting menu. There was so much variety I didn't know what to choose! I actually ended up visiting here twice. During my first visit I went for the seitan and tempeh wrap with vegan cheese & guacamole. It was pretty good, but the best thing was actually the drink. Obviously its hot in Spain and walking around everywhere is pretty exhausting. I could've gone for a water, but sometimes you just need something sweet. It was a frozen lemonade with strawberry and it was so sweet and refreshing.

During my second visit I wanted to have some Tapas, which is typical in Spain. I ended up with too much food, usually tapas is small finger foods, I thought the dishes would be tiny but nope! I should have gone with two! I had seitan sausages, grilled mushrooms in a Japanese style sauce and patatas bravas, which is actually a common Spanish tapas dish. Usually it comes with a paprika flavoured sauce and allioli (garlic mayonnaise) but this one came with dried tomato vegan pesto, it was actually the best I had during my time in Barcelona, and I ate a lot of patatas bravas! 

I really liked Veggie Garden, but it had nothing on Cat Bar. A little bar in the Gothic Quarter that serves vegan craft beers and vegan burgers, with really cool decor & friendly staff. What more do you need? I had the "Black Cat" burger which thankfully wasn't made of cat, it was made with black beans, topped with grilled eggplant, lettuce, tomato & garlic vegannaise. Is your mouth watering yet? I'm pretty sure it was the size of my head. I hadn't eaten that day yet, so I only went for a burger and it filled me up pretty well and pretty fast. When I returned (of course I returned) I had the same again but with patatas bravas, I told you, I like patatas bravas..

After all of the savoury goodness. I needed to find some gelato, there's a lot of that in Barcelona, there had to be somewhere that did vegan options, of course there was! I'd actually heard about this place through a vegan YouTuber (Vegan BJJ). Gelaaati Di Marco. Thankfully they actually labelled a couple of their flavours as vegan, but I asked if there were any more that weren't labelled and it turned out there was! I went for coconut with cinnamon, I had never tried, let alone heard of cinnamon gelato before and cinnamon is probably my favourite in the world of spices. 

I was pleasantly surprised, the cinnamon gelato was delicious. 

You will find that pretty much every gelato shop has at least one dairy free option, and it is usually sorbet. Sorbet can actually be just as creamy as ice cream, and its so refreshing and fruity! During my visit to Barcelona & Tossa De Mar I had raspberry, coconut, mango, orange & mixed berry flavoured sorbet's. All equally as delicious as standard ice cream.

Now, the next place has touched my soul so deeply with the deliciousness of the food. I'm not even joking. I actually ended up visiting here a total of 3 times, this involved getting the metro there. In fact, the first time I went there I hadn't checked the opening times beforehand and I ended up getting there an hour too early, but I waited. Dedication or what? It was obviously special enough for me to return twice! 

Dolce Pizza Y Los Veganos (also found out about this place from Vegan BJJ) obviously as the name states, this is a vegan pizza place, but they also serve pizzas with dairy cheese on. I'm not really sure why, because the vegan pizzas are good enough! They also do create your own salads, pastas & sandwiches/hot dogs. Of course during my first visit I scanned the menu for a good 20 minutes because everything sounded so delicious. Its not socially acceptable, or healthy, for one person to order 5 pizzas and eat them all, so I had to decide on one. I ended up getting a Martguerita and added mushrooms and spicy salami to it. 

Oh. My. Goodness. If you want to get your non vegan friends to try out some vegan food, take them here. I can't remember exactly how the real thing tastes, but I'm pretty sure its close enough. I personally used to love a pepperoni pizza, so finding a similar taste, but without the unnecessary death and cruelty is insane. Its amazing what you can do with plants, PLANTS. Don't even get me started on the cheese. It was probably the best vegan pizza I have ever tried.

I absolutely fell in love with this place for so many reasons. The food was delicious, it's reasonably priced, the staff are so friendly and welcoming, they had the cutest wall art & most importantly they use recycled paper. I loved that this place was usually full of locals, I'm pretty sure I was the only tourist in there every time I went. That's always a good sign.

There's more.. 

Yes, that's right. Vegan tiramisu. It was pretty small, but that's all you really need. Such a strong, rich and creamy flavour. You wouldn't believe it was vegan! 

Another place that I loved was Gopal. A little vegan deli near Las Rambla's which serves nachos, burgers, donuts & more. I ended up getting the spicy mexican burger with nachos, yet again. My mind was blown, Gopal is actually a takeaway place so there's no tables & chairs, I of course chose to sit somewhere very public so that people would look at my food and wonder where it came from, and if anyone asked I could say it was vegan and blow their minds too!

These places are all easily accessible and easy to find. Reasonably priced with great menus. I actually ate at other non vegan places too and some semi vegan places. They all had vegan options, and if there wasn't any vegan options I would just ask them to remove or replace certain ingredients (cheese, mayonnaise, etc) and I was good to go.

There's a few more veggie/vegan places in Barcelona which I never got around to trying because I was already in love with the places I'd already been to. To name a few:

Teresa Carles
Enjoy Vegan 
Quinoa Bar 

I'll definitely be returning to Barcelona so hopefully I'll visit some other places. Its wonderful how many vegan/veggie restaurants in cafe's there are in such a big meat loving country. Times are changing, people!

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Solo travel tips for Barcelona

I recently decided to make a spontaneous trip to Barcelona, the city rich with culture, art, nightlife & so much to see and do. I have always wanted to go there, and with 2 hour flights to Spain from London, I'd be silly not to! Of course, like every major city, Barcelona is full of thieves and pick pockets. I would say that is the only real big problem there is, from my experience anyway.

If you decide to travel anywhere on your own for the first time, I would highly recommend Barcelona. I was there for 10 days and I had an absolutely amazing time. I was really sad that I had to leave. I would've stayed for longer but, my mind was telling me yes and my bank account was telling me no. 

Barcelona has something for everyone, whether you're into partying, architecture, museums, art, food. Barcelona has it ALL. I didn't quite get around do doing everything I wanted to do (blame the sangria) but I did fit in quite a few things. First of all, accommodation is very important as a solo traveler. If you prefer to be alone and like peace and quiet, of course you'd stay in a hotel or maybe an air bnb, but I prefer noise, social atmosphere and liveliness. I think the hostels I stayed at in Barcelona may be the best hostels I've ever stayed at, and I've stayed at a fair few. So if that is what you are looking for, keep on reading!

The first hostel I stayed at was called Sant Jordi Hostel Rock Palace. Located right around the corner from Casa Batllo (also referred to as the house of bones or house of yawns) and Passieg De Gracia metro station. As soon as I walked in I was pleasantly surprised at how lovely and modern the design was, and the staff greeted me straight away. The rooms were great, everything was secure and modern. My main focus though, is the social scene. Of course if you travel alone, you'll want to meet some new people. The downstairs area had a fully equipped kitchen, sofas, a huge TV screen & music playing. Every night there is a dinner & then a free bar crawl, different food every night and different bars every night! The staff that cook and lead the bar crawls are beyond amazing, they are so friendly & so full of energy, they want to get everyone involved and give them a good time, which is so important. Natalee and Laisa especially were great, they always made sure everyone was having a good time. After a couple of nights I felt like I'd known them for months!

I had originally booked 3 nights at the Rock Palace and wanted to extend but due to the popularity they were completely booked, but luckily for me there's 3 more Sant Jordi hostels in Barcelona! I checked on Hostelworld and it turned out there was some availability for the Sant Jordi Sagrada Familia hostel, which as you can tell by the name is located a 10 minute walk away from the beautiful Sagrada Familia! It's also a skate hostel, they have an indoor ramp and skateboards for rent, that's one thing I love about Sant Jordi, each hostel has its own theme. Again, amazing staff and social atmosphere. I highly recommend you stay at a Sant Jordi hostel if you're looking to meet new people and have a fun time.

If you're tired of the partying in Barcelona, why not take a bus ride to a nearby coastal town? I had partied too much and needed a break, so I did a little research online to find out about nearby towns and villages worth visiting. I came across Tossa De Mar, in the Costa Brava. It had pretty good ratings on Trip Advisor and looked beautiful, and I am a huge fan of picturesque places. A single coach journey there costs 12 euros. (£10.16) and it takes 2 hours, which is pretty cheap considering a train that takes an hour to get from my hometown to London costs more than double that. Its quite a nice drive too, pretty scenery on the way & you'll drive through the Costa Brava which is so different to Barcelona. There aren't many hostels in Tossa, but I stayed at Mana Mana, which is such a sweet little place. It was such a huge change from the atmosphere in Barcelona. It was almost like a guest house. It's only a 5 minute walk away from the bus station and the beach, so its in a great location.

There's a kitchen and an outdoor roof terrace, everyone was so chilled out & friendly. It was more of a place to relax and chat, which is what you need after 3 nights of solid partying. If you're more into cute little picturesque towns and crystal clear waters, maybe Tossa is more for you! The only issue I had with Tossa was that there were absolutely 0 vegetarian let alone vegan restaurants, of course, in a small town in Spain. However, there's a gelato vendor on every corner that has various sorbet and dairy free flavours! If you hunt around a bit you'll be able to find adaptable vegetarian & vegan options, for example, pasta, vegetable paella & of course vegetable pizza without the cheese, just say "sin queso" which means no cheese.

During my time in Barcelona, I visited Park Guell, which is a must. If you're into art and architecture, its something you should definitely consider, Park Guell was a project for Gaudi, he was supposed to build 60 houses but ended up only building 3, and they look like something out of a Dr Seuss movie. Speaking of Gaudi, another recommendation is the "Tour Me Out" tours. They are free walking tours that run every morning and evening, usually lead by expats that fell in love with the city enough to study it and show it off to tourists. Usually you have to pay for tours, and they are lead by people that don't have much enthusiasm and just want to get it over and done with, but with these tours they are so much more than that. The guides are so friendly, lively & full of enthusiasm about the city and getting to know the group. I went on a Gaudi tour guided by a girl named Heaven, she was a ball of energy, so enthusiastic about Gaudi and the city. She told some great stories and explained everything in great detail and asked questions so that we could remember things, what would be the point of a tour if you're not going to remember anything? I loved that.

Walking tours are a great way to meet new people as a solo traveler, especially these tours. Heaven got everyone to introduce themselves at the beginning and referred to our group as "the fabulous fourteen" - when someone accidentally got left behind on the metro she said "we're a family now, so we'll wait" which was really funny and nice, she wasn't even mad about it. I've witnessed guides get really annoyed and stressed over things like that, but not Heaven, she was super patient & friendly. I even had a few good conversations with some of the other people on the tour.

Another thing I enjoyed doing in Barcelona, was taking strolls around Barri Gotic (The Gothic Quarter) its nice to take strolls on your own sometimes. On my first day I got a gelato from Gelaaati Di Marco and wandered around taking in all the beauty. I stopped in the main square to do some people watching and figure out my next move. It's such a nice feeling to be able to do things like that without having to compromise with someone, its quite an empowering feeling being in a busy city with your own company. The Gothic Quarter is the kind of place you get lost, but its a great place to get lost. Don't freak out if you do, the locals are friendly enough to give directions. You may even stumble across a new favourite restaurant or boutique while you're there.

Now, back at the beginning I mentioned pick pockets. I've met many people that got mugged or had things taken sneakily from their bags or pockets. It didn't happen to me, luckily, but I'll just say its about common sense. The worst place for it is the metro, make sure you have everything in your bag and your bag is on your front and you have your hands or arm covering any access to your bag, always keep an eye on your belongings, never ever let your guard down. You are more likely to be robbed if you're in a big group, so when you're on a tour, busy taking photos of the Sagrada Familia, be so wary of your valuables, and definitely do not fall asleep on the metro leaving yourself vulnerable to all sorts of crime. Like I said, common sense, its good to have!

In general, Barcelona is a great place to visit as a solo traveler. Its absolutely bursting with fun things to do. I feel like I actually learned a lot there. I've discovered a new love for architecture. I'd always enjoyed buildings and structures visually but hearing about the stories behind them and their history is amazing. If you're into history, art or anything of the sort Barcelona will blow your mind. Even if you're not very artsy and you just want to party, Barcelona is the place to be! I had a few good nights at Opium and Pacha. Although they are kind of tourist traps, they're great fun if clubbing is what you're into. They're right on the beach too so straight after you can head down to the water, go for a swim, stay and watch the sunrise or bring a speaker and continue the good vibes.

If you're not into partying, you could spend the evening on the terrace of a restaurant eating a nice dinner, head up to one of the many gorgeous viewpoints & watch the sunset or spend a day at Badalona beach where it is less crowded. The opportunities are endless. Barcelona is incredibly versatile and I really think it should be high on your list of places to visit!

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