Coimbra, Portugal Day 3

I forgot to mention that this trip to Portugal just happened to be during my birthday week. My actual birthday was spent taking part in the Quad Cup.

But on our last day, my friends had planned a surprise for me. To take me to Pet & Tea cat cafe! Now, I have strong feelings about cat cafes and worry about the cats being exploited and not cared for. But this cat cafe wasn’t like the ones I am used to in that it is more of a rescue centre that just so happens to have a cafe.

All of the cats were rescued and every cat was spayed/neutered and vaccinated once they reached the safe age.

This was my joint favourite cat, I called her Lisa. As in Lisa left-eye Lopez. All of the cats had food themed names but I forget. There was a croquette and a magestic sage-like floof of a cat called ginger who I also adored.

There was a teeny kitten who was too young to have been vaccinated so wasn’t in with the other cats and had already been found a forever home. Because the reason that people were encouraged to play with the cats was to get them socialised so that they could be adopted.

Here I am, the happiest human in the land. Holding a teeny tiny kitty who later crawled down my top to fall asleep.

I got a packet of dried tiny fish, from the owner, to feed the cats. Once I opened the packet I was surrounded by fluffy cats! Like a pied piper of cats! Please bear in mind that I am allergic to cats…so naturally I lay on the floor surrounded by cats who crawled all over me. I was in heaven and literally cried with joy (for the second time this trip).

After the joy of the cat cafe. We went a-touristing. The original plan was to go to the cat cafe (check), then the monastery and then the ceramic museum but there just wasn’t enough time for everything. So we took a vote and decided to visit the monastery.

We visited Mosteiro de Santa Clara-a-Velha which was a nunnery which had been flooded and rebuild upon so much that you could see tide lines on the walls.

The monastery was built following instructions from Saint Isabella who would hide bread in her dress in order to secretly feed the poor. Legend says that her husband, the King who was not supportive of her caring for those less fortunate, challenged her one day to reveal the hidden bread. As she unfurled her dress to reveal the bread, it had turned into roses.

So there were many beautiful rose bushes in the garden between the museum and the ruins.

The visitor centre of the museum was beautiful. Unfortunately none of our party speak Portuguese but google translate was a great help. But we learned more about the history of the building and of Saint Isabella.

I wish we had more time to explore as we only had a couple of hours which didn’t allow for a lot of museum time.

After this, we stopped off for a quick ice cream (I got sorbet because vegan) break before having to take our coach to the airport.

I would love to come back to Coimbra and already have a list of things I want to do and places I want to see.

So where’s next? I do have a trip to Reykjavik booked as a mother/daughter trip.

Coimbra, Portugal Days 1 & 2

This year, the B team of my roller derby league were invited to take part in the annual ‘Quad Cup’ tournament hosted by the Rocket Dolls Roller Derby. As an A team skater, I didn’t expect to be able to skate but I wanted to go in order to support my pals. Fortunately for me, due to real life obligations, the number of available skaters was low enough that I got to join in to help boost numbers. A derby trip AND a holiday to Portugal? I was in!

I knew precisely nothing about Coimbra prior to my visit. A quick google search told me that there were enough museums and galleries and churches to keep me entertained. I like my holidays to include some learning and sightseeing.

The week we went just happened to be the week that Portugal was experiencing a heatwave. The locals were uncomfortably warm so I’m sure you can imagine how a bunch of people from Aberdeen got on. We invested en masse in some fans to help keep us cool.

There were 18 of us who went and fortunately there were enough people who shared my interests that I had pals to sightsee with.

Our first day was spent taking part in a roller derby tournament. There was no time for sightseeing. And once the tournament was over, we were all so exhausted that all we did in the evening was drink cider and eat pizza. I did get a wonderful vegan pizza the size of a small table which gave me the carb boost I needed. Plus nice to see pineapple on a pizza as standard.

We were extra lucky in that a member of the host league offered to take us on a tour. We had our very own guide who was so passionate about the city that it wasn’t hard to fall in love with Coimbra. When we arrived home we did send a care package as a ‘thank you’.

So on our second full day in Coimbra we went sightseeing. Our guide for the day, the wonderful Bia, took us up to to the top of the biggest hill so that we could visit the museums, the university and drink some of the best espresso I’ve ever had. Our walk was all uphill, via a short cut up a hill colloquially known as ‘back break hill’. After a day of roller derby, it was painful but completely worth it.

We started with a visit to the Paço das Escolas, which is a historical square within the University of Coimbra which had some of the most beautiful views. My university paled in comparison! The views alone were worth the journey.

We entered the building and saw The Great Hall of Acts where some students have to read their thesis in front of their peers. It was a stunning room but I could imagine how terrifying an experience that must be!

We saw the armoury, the university prison and the iron gates. We learned that the robes worn by the students inspired JK Rowling when she was writing the Harry Potter books. We learned that when students fell in love, they let their loved one rip their robe and should the relationship end, they would have to sew the rip closed. Upon graduation the students would have their loved ones rip their robes from them and tie the rags onto the gate.

We then got to go to the Biblioteca Joanina which is the actual ‘Beauty and the Beast’ library! There is no photography allowed in the library but it really is as magical as the film makes it out to be. It is so big and grand and just everything one wants an old library to be.

I cried in the library. It was so beautiful that I was just overwhelmed.

We then went to the university cafeteria and because we were with a student, we were able to eat there. We were told that government building had to provide a vegetarian option and usually this is vegan. I got soup, tofu with salad and rice, fruit and some juice for less than €5. And I didn’t stop talking about how tasty this meal was until…well I’m still talking about it, it really was good.

We then went for a quick espresso break where we enjoyed one of the best espressos I’ve had whilst taking in the most wonderful view of the city. We had carried a box of strawberries with us, for snacking, so sat drinking espresso and eating strawberries and just taking in the sights.

It was then time to bid farewell to our lovely guide. I will always be grateful to her for taking a bunch of strangers out for the day to see the wonderful university buildings and learn all about the history.

There was time for a couple of museum visits before going back to our hotel to meet the rest of our party.

Museum one was Museu da Ciencia. I adore a science museum! There were interactive displays and we were like kids on a school trip, just learning science. I also learned about the first artificial insemination which involved frogs wearing shorts.

Museum two was Galeria de História Natural Coimbra. Just try and keep me away from a natural history museum! I saw a lot of … interesting taxidermy and felt bad about mocking the dead (the taxidermy).

Final stop of the day was a quick visit to Monasteiro de Santa Cruz. This was recommended as being the church to visit, even if you’re not overly ‘into’ churches. And those recommendations were right. Such a large and intimidating building. I am not religious but I do enjoy experiencing local cultures.

To be continued…

A vegan taste of Warsaw

Jestem weganinem-I am vegan

Once I’d received my mystery holiday location I started to worry. Will I be able to get tasty vegan food in Warsaw?

When I thought about traditional Polish cuisine I thought of sausage, warming stews and pierogi. None of these dishes screamed ‘suitable for vegans’.

I must admit that I was expecting to come home a few kilos lighter. That didn’t happen.

During the 1.5 hours spent waiting in the departure lounge for my flight, I took to google and was very impressed with my options. My hostel was within minutes of 4 vegans eateries. There were hunners of vegan and vegan friendly restaurants all over the city. I was going to have one very happy tummy.

I arrived on a Sunday and had heard rumours of there being a vegan hot dog truck that was only open on Sundays. By the time I arrived at my hostel and had done a wee bit of sightseeing, I was too tired to try to find it. Next time I will get a magical vegan hot dog!

My first meal I was still getting my bearings so didn’t want to venture too far away from my hostel. On the same street as my hostel was Tel Aviv Urban Food. A vegan, gluten free and sugar free restaurant. I had walked past this place earlier in the day and the smells coming out of the door made me feel like I was in a cartoon floating in response to smelling a delicious pie.

I ordered kofta followed by pumpkin cheese-free cake. I am never going to say no to a vegan cheesecake. The kofta were so good I thought I would cry. After a day of travelling and a really early start, I just wanted some warming, nutritional food. And this is what I got. It was so filling that my pudding was going to take some effort to devour. My mother didn’t raise a quitter, it took some time but I managed the cheesecake. It was like a pumpkin spice latte but in cheesecake form. The entire meal cost the equivalent of about £16 and I would have happily paid double for it.

My amazing meal from day 1.

On day 2 I went to Leonardo Verde as I had walked past it in the morning en route to the tram stop, noticed it was a vegan Italian restaurant and I made a mental note to return. If I’m honest, I saw the logo with the beard first and then the vegan Italian food.

I have wanted to try risotto balls for years! Absolute years! One of my friends makes them, non vegan, and I find myself looking at them with longing. I’m Scottish, I’m genetically programmed to enjoy fried food. And I do adore a rice dish. I genuinely thought I would cry eating these. They were everything I had wanted from a fried risotto ball. For my main I had the Karczochowa pizza- artichoke, mushroom, onion and smoked tofu. Artichokes on pizza are a taste sensation.

This was a lovely quiet restaurant, possibly due to it being a Monday and about 5pm when I went there. I sat eating my delicious meal whilst reading a book. I was the epitome of content.

The starter that almost made me cry with joy.

I was desperate to try some traditional Polish food whilst in Poland. It would be rude not to! I was recommended a place called Vege Bistro. This place was a little further away than I’d ventured before and it was raining that day and I had been bold and left the hostel without a jacket…anyway it was worth walking around lost in the rain for. I got lost because I don’t like taking my phone out in the rain. This restaurant was rather small but everyone was dining solo which made me feel relaxed.

My starter was pickled ‘herring’. I used to work in a delicatessen and remember the smell of the rollmop herring and these smelled just like my memory. They came with a refreshing apple and onion salad which I have tried to recreate at home. I wanted pierogi! One can’t go to Poland and not eat pierogi! The waitress recommended I try the lentil and mushroom pierogi. They were like eating a hug from a loving granny. Oh and fresh made lemonade to wash it down with? Yes please.

Vegan Traditional Polish cuisine.

I had one day left and a list of about 12 vegan places I hadn’t tried yet. I spoke to one of the staff at my hostel who suggested Lokal Vegan Bistro. This place seemed so cool. The kind of place that you show up to and realise there’s a secret dress code that you never knew about…this may have just been that everyone else there just looked so chic and I was wearing floral palazzo pants and didn’t feel very chic myself. The staff were lovely and talked me through the specials.

I decided on having the fried cutlet which came with roast potatoes and cucumber. The cutlet was seitan and I love seitan! My tummy struggles to digest it but it tastes so good! Ever since coming home I have had roast potatoes and cucumber with seeds as my side dishes at least once a week. This restaurant has impacted my meal prep and that’s always a good thing!

Can we just take a moment to appreciate these cucumber slices!

So I needn’t have worried, Warsaw has an abundance of vegan suitable restaurants. I never went hungry. Well played Warsaw, well played.

Warsaw, Poland

I couldn’t decide where to start my travels so I took the plunge and booked a mystery trip through srprs.me . The idea of just saying ‘I have this much budgeted for a trip on these dates’ both excited and terrified me.

I wanted to travel and my boyfriend wasn’t able to come with me so I decided to take my first ever solo trip.

I booked a 5 day trip, staying in a hostel, for £135.00. What did I have to lose? Other than said 5 days and £135.00?

When my destination was revealed I was so excited! Of course I had wanted to visit Poland but never knew where to start!

I felt joy initially by the presence of trams. I LOVE TRAMS! I even have a pressed coin of a tram in my purse!

This was my joyful face every time I went on a tram which was at least 4 times a day. It was the easiest way to get around.

Now, 5 days seems a lot of time to go exploring but taking into account days where I was traveling, I had 3 full days and one afternoon. I got my journal out and started planning my days.

One of my jet setting pals had recommended taking one of the many Yellow Umbrella free walking tours. I took 3 walking tours. Each tour ended up being with the same guide who was wonderful. These tours are free but you can give a tip at the end and they were totally worth it. I took the following tours; Old Warsaw, Jewish Warsaw and Warsaw at War.

Above is Zygmunt’s Column on the Castle Square which was the meeting point for most of the tours. See that red building to the right with the clock? At about 11.15am a man plays a trumpet out of the window then waves at everyone. It’s glorious! Also, how charming are these buildings? The majority had been destroyed and rebuilt!

I didn’t just go on walking tours. I wanted to see some nature!

I had to visit Łazienki Park! I wanted to see the Chopin statue.

And I did! Also, it is so much bigger than I thought it would be. Seriously it was massive!

Next to Łazienki Park was the University Botanic Gardens. I will never refuse a visit to a Botanic Garden! Get me in that park, I want to see the plants! Fun fact, it appears to be a hotspot for teenagers having photo shoots, the urge to pose awkwardly in the background was strong. But I resisted as they were having fun and it would be mean to ruin that.

I couldn’t quite work out why there was a ladybug bull statue in the Botanic Garden…but I love whimsy!

Next stop was Warsaw Uprising Museum. I didn’t take any photos there as it felt wrong. I enjoy learning about history and, shamefully, I’d never heard of the Warsaw Uprising of 1944. I first heard of it during my first walking tour in Warsaw and decided I had to go to the museum to learn more. This museum isn’t ‘fun’ but it’s not meant to be. It’s supposed to be informative and remind people of the horrors of the past. And it did just that. I learned so much and I’m not ashamed to say that I cried at more than one display.

Unfortunately I didn’t have enough time to visit every museum I wanted to go to (I had 4 pages of options written in my travel journal). But I am happy with the choice that I made. Although if I return to Warsaw, I intend to go to POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews and Muzeum Marie Sklodowska-Curie (the Marie Curie Museum).

On my final afternoon I went to the zoo. I’m not a big fan of zoos but the story of the Zookeeper’s Wife piqued my interest.

I saw a sloth in real life and was shocked to find that they are not slow! This dude moved so quickly!

I really enjoyed my trip to Warsaw! I saw so many beautiful sights, I learned so much and I ate loads of amazing meals (I will write about the food separately). I am so glad that this was my surprise destination. I have another mystery trip booked for January and I’m excited!

I’d just like to go…somewhere

Last year while listening to one of my favourite podcasts (‘Jules and Sarah the Podcast’ it’s good, give it a listen) I realised that I’ve barely travelled.

Jules was talking about how they had visited 30 countries by the time the turned 30. At this point I was 31 and had visited 7…and in those 7 I included the UK…where I live.

I have always wanted to travel. My travel bucket list covers an entire A4 page. Front and back.

But I never really did it. I didn’t have the money, I didn’t have anyone to go with me, I couldn’t get time off work. Excuses galore. I have to focus on achieving my own goals.

I decided that I want to visit 40 countries by the time I’m 40. So that makes 33 countries in 9 years (now 8 years). I want to experience the beauty and cultures that this globe has to offer.

This is going to be an online journal of my progress mainly because I keep losing my notebook.

Where have I been?

UK, Ireland, Turkey, Belgium, France, Spain and Germany

Kakaw

Last weekend I had the absolute honour of playing in the first ever Granite City Fight Hawks game!
I got to skate alongside skaters I had mentored through freshmeat. Going from Bambi to bouting.
I felt like a proud mother hen!
I adore mentoring fresh meat. Our girls have a fantastic attitude and just give it their all. Other fresh meats may be the same, they probably are, there’s a lot of good people in the derbyverse, I just only have first hand knowledge of ours. I remember seeing skaters struggle to even stand and in what seems like weeks, what often is weeks, they’re casually derby stopping and doing apex jumps like it’s no big deal.
IT IS A BIG DEAL!!!
I take precisely zero credit for these skaters being amazing.  That is wholey down to a combination of our excellent fresh meat program and their sheer hardwork and determination.

image

True fact; when regaling the townspeople of our maiden game (i.e. boring people at work, telling boyfriend over and over), I often had tears in my eyes.
There were points on track where I was practically applauding my own team on their mad skills. ‘Yeah you do that offence!’
I don’t have small humans of my own but I imagine that this must be similar to watching your kid go from falling on their face on sports day in playgroup to casually winning gold in the Olympics. Am I exaggerating? Possibly. Possibly not.