Tag Archives: travel

there’s a place up ahead and i’m going…

There’s a time and a place for CCR, and that time and place is the classic, all-American roadtrip!

We’re taking our third trip of the year and things didn’t pan out quite as they were supposed to. Flight prices rose and unforeseen bills popped up (like the $600 I had to spend to fix the A/C in my car). So, instead of flying to Philly to visit our friends, we’re driving!

Some cringe at the idea of driving for 13 hours, but I say bring it on! We drove the same distance last year around this time–to Denver–and it was the time of our lives. My boyfriend has never been much of a fan of the classic roadtrip, and unfortunately my vision for us (singing along to CCR) is never fully realized, and is instead replaced by reality (me humming CCR quietly to myself as he snores in the passenger seat), but that’s okay! The thing I love about a good roadtrip is a) I haven’t seen much of the middle states, and a roadtrip is a great time to pay those states a visit, and b) I kind of love anything I get to build a soundtrack for. I’m a HUGE music nerd and I get super stoked about making the roadtrip playlist.

As a vegan, the stress of traveling tends to develop a new dimension. Some cities are more veg-friendly (San Francisco, Denver…), but then we find ourselves hanging out at halfway points (Cleveland) and finding a suitable vegan eatery is a tad more challenging. Or, there’s always that pesky little problem of being outnumbered once we get to Philly (three omnivores to one vegan) so at least a few days of my trip will be spent foraging, and probably eating my fair share of clif bars. (…And french fries. and beer.)

We’re running short on time, as we’re leaving straight from work on Friday so we can make it to Cleveland Friday night as a stopping point. Clearly, as the resident music nerd, a trip from the midwest to the eastern seaboard wouldn’t have been complete without paying the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame a visit. From there on Saturday, we’ll drive straight to Philly and spend two days there. Monday, as both of our friends are working, we have the day to ourselves, where we’ll be eating at a vegan pizzeria that I’ve already scouted out. Tuesday morning, we take off for Pittsburgh (possibly taking a detour to Gettysburg, because why not?). We’ll be spending a short while in Pittsburgh so we can catch a Pirates vs Cubs game and eat some more yummy vegan fare. Wednesday morning, we’ll take off for the last leg of our trip so we can be back at work on Thursday. It’s a whirlwind!

I’ve never been further northeast than Columbus, OH, so if you’ve been to Cleveland, Pittsburgh, or Philly, I’d love to hear about your favorite vegan restaurants. Pittsburgh and Philly don’t seem to be too difficult–it’s Cleveland I’m worried about!

I hope to return next week with photos and stories of my travels. My birthday is this Sunday and drinking good beer with good friends in a new city isn’t too shabby of a way to celebrate.

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I left my heart in San Francisco

My 7 day trip to San Francisco felt like a time warp. I’m back to the good ole flat Midwest but it seems like I’ve been gone but a day. The vacation wasn’t nearly long enough and unfortunately, a few things we’d planned got cut from the itinerary due to inclement weather, a city that doesn’t open any of its doors until 9 am, and the unforeseen fatigue of climbing SF’s (in)famous hilly terrain. I certainly didn’t plan on coming home with blistered feet. I’m sad to say there are several restaurants we didn’t make it to and sights we didn’t see–but I guess that means we’ll just have to return…one day.

I wasn’t able to photograph every vegan meal I enjoyed, but here is the highlight reel. It was easy to come by vegan food when you knew where you were going, but unfortunately it was slim pickings near our hotel in Union Square. We took the BART to the Mission almost daily just to eat. The Mission was the land of tofu scramble, vegan french toast, soyrizo burritos, fried seitan, and more–oh! so much more.

Have you ever gone on a vacation and felt pure relief when you arrive home because you don’t have to eat out anymore? Don’t get me wrong, I love to eat out, and the vegan options were plentiful, and the food was delicious–but something about it just wasn’t my home cooking. Pre-vegan me hated cooking so this feeling is brand new to me. The seitan was too fried and the scramble wasn’t seasoned just right. Delicious, but I’m glad I can once again take control of my meals. All I want to do is go to the grocery store and pick up my essentials and get cooking!

Berkeley Vegan Pizza from ZPizza. This was one of the two nights that we ordered delivery because we were exhausted and it was late. Unfortunately, it seems that San Francisco restaurants do not stay open late so it wasn’t easy to order delivery past 9 pm. I found this very odd because we were in the center of downtown. It was nothing like NYC or even Chicago. I suppose that’s all part of the laid back California lifestyle.

While we’re on the topic of vegan pizza and delivery, we also ordered from Patxi’s Pizza. This was every bit as delicious as it looks. I don’t think even my own city could design such a delicious vegan Chicago-style deep dish pizza. I don’t think even I could! It’s now on my list of meals to tackle. We both really enjoyed this.

Herbivore, you slayed me with your delicious 100% vegan menu. We went to Herbivore for breakfast not once, not twice, but three times (a lady). We went to both locations–one in the Mission and one a block from Alamo Square. Pictured above is the combo breakfast–vegan french toast, vegan scramble, and potatoes–followed by the tempeh “BLT.” Both were absolutely scrumptious.

Vegan breakfast burrito from Sunrise Restaurant. This was my first (but not last!) soyrizo burrito. It was fabulous and hit the spot. This was not a fully vegan restaurant, so the boyfriend was able to order eggs. My coffee came with regular cream. I didn’t inquire about whether or not they had soy milk because I sincerely doubted it, so I drank my coffee black. It was strong, just how I like it.

Since we’re on the topic of burritos, let’s talk about Papalote. We went to the Mission location and this was, by far, the most delicious burrito I have ever had. It, too, was a soyrizo burrito, and their beans and rice are 100% vegan, as is their DELICIOUS salsa. It looked too creamy to be vegan but it was. Om nom nom. I almost died and went to heaven when I ate this burrito. The restaurant was small and reminded me a little bit of Chipotle, so I was shocked at how good and authentic it was. I would go back to SF just to eat at Papalote. No joke.

Our hotel was just a block from Chinatown, so of course we had to eat some delicious authentic Chinese. The SF Chinatown has the second largest Chinese population outside of China. We stumbled upon this restaurant by pure chance. On our way home from our Yosemite tour, I saw the sign–Loving Hut, 100% vegan. We decided to check it out after our Anchor Brewing Company tour. It turns out that this is a chain with several locations, so this might not be the last time I meet 100% vegan Chinese food! Pictured above is Thai “fishless” curry, spring rolls, and a vegan thai iced tea. I won’t lie to you, we were not sober when we ate here, so I can’t remember much about the food. The boyfriend really claims to have enjoyed his vegan burger, though:

The aforementioned brewery. Every beer brewed by Anchor is vegan, and you get to taste 7 following the brewery tour. The brewery is located near the Mission/Potrero Hill. It’s a hike to get to but totally worth it. I enjoyed every single beer. The tour reservations fill up fast and they’re currently booked through July, so if you ever make it to SF, make sure to book your tour well in advance.

This, my friends, was what I was the most excited for. This tiny little restaurant, called Dante’s Weird Fish, serves fried seitan with vegan buffalo sauce, vegan chipotle sauce, and vegan ranch. It was super fried but really hit the spot. It’s very small and we heard they get really busy at lunch and dinner time, so we made sure to stop in around 3 pm for a late lunch one day. It was fabulous. We also devoured a serving of vegan cheesecake, which I was too busy nomming to photograph. So. freakin’. good.

Other notable vegan eats: Ike’s Place, where I ordered the “meatless mike” and asked for it to be made vegan. They have a vegetarian menu and you can order any of the sandwiches vegan (with daiya cheese/vegan mayo/etc.). We waited in a long line out the door in unheard of 80 degree SF weather and then had to find a park to eat our sandwiches. We had to climb two extremely steep hills to get to Buena Vista Park. By that time, we were starving, tired, sweaty, and my sandwich didn’t look nearly as appetizing as it really was–so no photo for that.

It’s also worth mentioning that if you ever find yourself walking through the entire length of Golden Gate Park all the way to Ocean Beach, you can order a vegan veggie dog at the hot dog vendors. You’ll pay a ridiculous sum of $5, but if you’re extra nice, they might just cook it in clean water for you. You can also order veggie dogs at the Coliseum in Oakland, where we attended about half of an A’s game. Attending a baseball game at that stadium was very weird. I’ve never been to a Chicago ballgame that wasn’t totally sold out, but this place was so empty. Do they even have fans? (We would’ve seen a Giants game instead had they been in town this past week.)

It’s not easy to find vegan fare in Fisherman’s Wharf. Allegedly you can order a vegan potato at Hot Spud but I didn’t try. You can, however, get a free biscoff cookie at the Biscoff stand with any coffee purchase. The lack of vegan food was made up for by the sea lions, I s’pose.

The food court at Yosemite, however, does have vegan options–their menu tells you exactly what is vegan and exactly what is gluten-free. I was happy for that. After a day of hiking to the Sequoias and driving to all the vantage points, I was dying for some filling vegan food. I was able to get some tortilla soup and a vegan hummus plate with fresh veggies and pitas before the four hour bus ride home. Yum!

The city was beautiful and I certainly ate my way through it. Now it’s back to the grind.

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San Francisco, here I come!

This may well be my final blog post before I leave for my trip. Our flight is at 8:35 am at good ole Midway Airport on Saturday morning. This means we’ll be up at the sun-shiney hour of 5 am. Oh boy! I should be packing but I’ll let you in on a little secret: I am terrible at packing. I am usually terrible at planning for vacation in general. This time, however, I have researched San Francisco to the point of feeling as though I could legit pass a culture and geography exam. Yesterday I was so tired–my eyes were burning from hours staring at a computer screen just reading and reading for the past week. Did you ever study super hard for an exam in high school or college and then reach the point of no return? Where you still have, say, 2 hours before the exam, but you feel like your brain couldn’t possibly hold any more information so you decide to take those 2 hours to breathe and then just show up and wing it? That’s pretty much how I feel. I couldn’t possibly read another article about the city. I’m ready to go!

All it comes down to now is the whole packing thing. Tomorrow after work, I will be a busy bee. I have to drop off my beautiful little kitties at my parents’ house, which means they kind of get their own little vacation, and then it’s time to finish packing and then the waiting game begins. I will probably not get a wink of sleep, which is kind of a major bummer seeing as I find it impossible to sleep on planes–and then we’ll be gaining two hours. I imagine I’ll be feeling pure exhaustion by 5 pm Saturday. I probably should have planned a more lowkey day but I’m anticipating getting a second wind after we land. We plan on seeing Haight Ashbury, the Twin Peaks, Golden Gate Park, the remains of the Sutro Bathhouse, and nomming some delicious vegan cuisine at the very least on Saturday. We’ll see where else we end up. The real fun, and the part I’m most excited about, is our daytrip to Yosemite on Monday. It will be a long, long day. It’s really the whole reason we’re going to San Francisco in the first place. I’m a sucker for natural beauty and mountainous terrain.

I almost feel guilty for not working out at all this week, and I know I’ll feel extreme guilt when I indulge in delicious food and drink, but it should all balance out given the amount of walking we’ll be doing. We’re going to try to walk everywhere, except for through the gritty, seedy parts. There’s transit for that. Sore legs and tired feet, here we come!

I’m hoping to have lots to report on all the delicious vegan food I eat. I’ve pinpointed all the restaurants I want to try and, god willing, I should have some delicious-looking food pics when I return. Until then, stay classy!

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not a city girl

I am about to come across as the most privileged, most sheltered, most suburban, most ignorant white girl you may have ever heard. Consider yourself forewarned.

I want to preface this post by stating that I live in the far suburbs of Chicago. Some Chicagoans wouldn’t even consider my town a suburb, I’d venture to bet. I have lived here all my life. When I went to college, I went two hours south to a relatively rural location (comparatively). While I’ve lived 40 miles west of Chicago my entire life, I really don’t make it to the city much. I don’t have any friends who live in the city. For all intents and purposes, whenever I’ve gone into the city, I’ve lived very much the life of a tourist. Typical city day for us: ride the Metra to Ogilvie Station. Walk east. End up at Grant Park/Millenium Park/State Street/Michigan Avenue/Adler Plantarium/Field Musem/Aquarium. Grab lunch/dinner. Walk back to the train. Depart city.

Really, I can count on two hands the amount of times that I’ve entered the city and my experience differed from the above: sure, I’ve been to my fair share of Cubs games. I’ve been to Hawks and Bulls games. I’ve been to the Briar Street Theater. I’ve been to Union Park for Pitchfork. I’ve been to concerts at the Aragon, the Riviera, the Chicago Theater. But by and large, my Chicago visits have been to the same general area. Yes, there are homeless people in abundance. But there are always so many people on the street that I have never felt unsafe. Every morning I listen to the news on my way to work and every day, there’s been a new murder or 10. I keep hearing how our crime rate is increasing. The difference is I know not to go to the crime-ridden areas. Crime can happen anywhere but there are certain areas to stay away from, and I do. In short, I’ve never been in a situation where I really felt fear in Chicago.

I never considered myself so painfully suburban, however, until the past few days. I’ve been researching San Francisco, as we leave for our trip Saturday, and my eyes have been forced open. The crime rate in San Francisco is absolutely, frighteningly high. This is something I didn’t know until we were discussing our trip with my boyfriend’s mom and she made an offhand remark–“just be careful, San Francisco has an incredibly high crime rate.” When we left, we discussed her comment in the car. Was she serious? San Francisco, in my mind’s eye, is full of either a) peace-loving, 4/20-friendly hippie wannabes or b) incredibly successful businesspeople. I googled it. I found out that not only was his mom absolutely right, but our hotel–the hotel I was so excited about–was smack dab in the center of it all.

What’s funny about all of this is that I used to work at a publishing company that printed community guidebooks. I was promoted to staff writer and the first book I got to write was the San Francisco book. I did a lot of research, obviously. I never came across anything like what I’ve come across in the past few days…not that they’d want us to print “the truth” in a book targeting tourists and new residents, anyway.

When I booked my hotel, I knew the neighborhood I wanted. I didn’t want to stay in the Fisherman’s Wharf because I thought I was too cool to succumb to staying in an area so touristy. I was aiming for either the Haight or Nob Hill. The hotel I found was in Nob Hill (or so I thought)…it wasn’t until yesterday that I realized, in actuality, the hotel was in the “Tender Nob”–Lower Nob Hill, where Nob Hill turns into the Tenderloin. For anyone unfamiliar, the Tenderloin has one of, if not the, highest crime rate in the city. I’ve combed through blog posts and informative articles–and even seen photographic evidence–of hypodermic needles in the street, people exposing themselves and pissing on buildings in broad daylight. I found an interactive crime map. Behold:

That big red area is mostly comprised of the Tenderloin and Soma neighborhoods, but also bleeds into the Civic Center/Downtown/Chinatown/Union Square areas as well.

Needless to say, I started to feel really pathetic. Here I was, wanting an “authentic” San Francisco experience. I wanted (and still want) to take transit like a local instead of renting a car. I want to walk everywhere I can. I want to experience the city on foot because one of its hallmarks is its walkable, pedestrian-friendly nature. In my head, I had this idyllic vision that we would leave our hotel in the morning and pick a direction and just start walking. I’ve always refrained from carrying large purses when I walk around in the city for fear of being pickpocketted or mugged–but that’s Chicago. I didn’t think this would be like Chicago. I thought I could carry my big bag with my expensive camera and not worry about being bothered.

I never used to fear this. In fact, I visited Paris when I was 16 for a class trip and my mom made me buy one of those tourist wallets you wear under your shirt to keep your passport and money safe–and I thought she was ridiculous. I wasn’t once hassled in Paris, aside from a few gypsies in the Latin Quarter and a few bracelet-making African implants in Montmatre. By and large, even in a foreign country, I’ve just never really felt unsafe. And now I do. From the stories I’ve read, I’m just a little scared. The reason the crime spills into Downtown/Union Square is, in my assessment, because that’s where the majority of the hotels are located. Hotels = tourists = naive, vulnerable rich people. Easy targets. And I’m going to be one of them (except the joke’s on them because I’m flat broke!)

We’ve already switched hotels once but we’re still only about a block from that big red area on the map. I have half a mind to give up my original plan and pick yet another hotel in the Fisherman’s Wharf. I just don’t want to spend my entire vacation afraid. I don’t want to be afraid to walk back to my hotel at night. I don’t want to feel afraid on the Muni or the BART. I should have known, I guess, that this is the price you pay for staying downtown. Had I been smart, or rich, maybe we would’ve stayed in Sausalito and commuted into the city via ferry each day. But it’s too late for that now.

A city is a city is a city. I should’ve known. I remember being shocked at how many homeless people hung out near the touristy 16th Street Mall in Denver. I should have expected the same experience.

Sadly, I think I’m too suburban for this shit. My bark was much bigger than my bite. Here I go, tail between my legs, to peruse the Fisherman’s Wharf hotel listings once more…

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c25k update

I’ve been cooking new meals but I have neglected to take any decent photos, so this post will not be about that. But for the record, I made vegan stroganoff this week (very tasty!), and caribbean coconut rice w/ chickpeas and broccoli (this was tasty but I sort of ruined it by adding a touch too much cayenne pepper–my mouth was on fire! I also don’t think I’m a big fan of ginger and this called for a whole tbsp of ground ginger). I used my Upton’s Naturals chorizo seitan for the MOST delicious tofu scramble I’ve cooked to date. I wish I had photos! It was to die for. It was the talk of work when I brought my leftovers for breakfast. I love when my coworkers are intrigued by my meals. They are always telling me how delicious my food looks and smells, and they’re always shocked to find out the ingredients. One of my coworkers even told me I’ve inspired her to include more veggies into her meals. I love that! 🙂

I’m chugging along with the c25k program. I decided to abandon the regimen and go it alone. I finally “graduated” week 5, finally running 20 minutes straight. I’ve really, really slowed my pace, which I’m okay with. Speed and time will come later. Right now, I’m really just trying to bump up my endurance. Being able to run for 20 minutes was a huge accomplishment for me, even if my pace is barely a step above a brisk walk. I’m going to try to add a couple minutes to each run until I get to 30 minutes. Then I’ll start bumping up my speed by a tenth of a MPH until I get back up to my original pace. I will get there. I will not give up. (However, I only ran twice this week and only worked out three times total. My boss let us leave an hour and a half early yesterday and I decided to go home and relax rather than go to the gym…and then I ate way too much food and called it a day.) I’m taking my run outside today for the first time. I’m anticipating crashing and burning. It’s much easier on a treadmill. We’ll see how it goes. I’m lucky I live in the great-freakin’-plains and I won’t be dealing with any inclines. Just flat terrain here in Illinois.

We’re leaving for San Francisco on April 21. For anyone who’s been: what restaurants do you suggest for vegans? I plan on doing some research but I thought I’d mention it here in case anyone has any brilliant suggestions.

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beginning, again.

Over the summer, I traveled to Denver with my boyfriend for a short, albeit needed, vacation. It had been a while since we’d left the Midwest due to a series of life conflicts—he had lost his job and been unemployed for several months and my first job out of college barely paid above minimum wage, to name a few—but with my new job that not only paid more but also offered paid vacation days, and with his tax refund, we decided to skip town for a week. The furthest west I’d been in the continental U.S. was Iowa, and he hadn’t been much further west than that, so we welcomed the adventure with open arms. Even spending 14 hours in the car was exciting. Who doesn’t love a summer roadtrip with Credence Clearwater Revival thumping through Ford Focus speakers?

This was one of the times in my life that I felt pure, unadulterated happiness. Adventure brings a high unlike any other. Travelling is my drug. Unfortunately, I don’t have the budget to go far, and even when I do travel, I don’t often get to take advantage of all the opportunities waiting for me in that foreign land due to the unfortunate financial constraints of a recent grad/burgeoning “professional.” Something about Denver awakened a new attitude in me and for a brief moment, helped me escape from my midwestern rut.

We spent half a day at Red Rocks and between being horrendously out of shape and also adjusting to the mile-high altitude, climbing the stairs from the bottom to the top of the amphitheater in 90 degrees felt damn near impossible. Wheezing, sweating, and probably cussing, I kept repeating the same phrase—“This is my Everest!”—which became the vacation catchphrase. Every challenge, whether small or large, was welcomed that week with the same veracity. “This is my Everest!” I’d proclaim, and onward I’d go until I completed whatever it was I’d set my mind to. In this case, among Colorado locals who seem to me to be the fittest people in the U.S., I’m sure they would have laughed or scoffed at little ole Illinois me wheezing on my way to the top of Red Rocks—that is, if they were half as cynical as I am. What I noticed in Denver is how friendly the people are. Or maybe, what I was noticing was how unfriendly I am.

Sure, I was high on life for a time in Denver, but it didn’t take long for the familiar dark cloud to creep over me. It first appeared on our second to last day there. Vacation was closing in on us—I liken this feeling to the way Sunday evening feels before returning to a school- or workweek. The fun is over and it’s back to the grind. This grind meant the grueling 14-hour drive home, which is not nearly as exciting as the drive there. Away from the Rockies and into the Great Plains, through Nebraska and Iowa and back into Illinois where the toll roads begin again, James noticed a profound change in my mood. Back to Illinois, back to humidity, back to my thankless job, back to reality. Goodbye, vacation high.

For the past several months, nothing has awakened that spark in me. My work-life has been met with a new set of challenges, as has my personal life. For a second I teetered on the edge, almost making the call to my first-ever therapist. I decided, though, to not commit myself to a system that might overlook the true problem and prescribe medication. I don’t think I need medication. What I think I need is an attitude adjustment. So began my trial-and-error to find the missing puzzle piece.

I bought a digital piano, thinking I might get back into playing. I haven’t touched the thing since the second week I bought it. Then I signed up for a yoga class. That left me feeling inspired and at peace during the actual classes and for about half an hour after I left. I tried my hand at writing a screenplay with a friend—that has gone untouched since April. Still, I’m struggling to find something to make me feel happy, a word—and a feeling—elusive to me. What is happiness?

I’ve never been big on New Year’s resolutions because the fear of failure is enough to keep me from the challenge. But, a famous piece of advice keeps drumming through my brain—do something every day that scare you—and here we are. It’s January 2, 2012. And I’m going to do something every day that scare me. I am going to try to make it up this incline, I’m going to try to navigate through these unfamiliar waters. I’m probably going to use a lot of clichés in the process. I am going to be happy and I am going to go out of my way to try to be a kind, genuine human being.

This is when it all comes full circle: this is my Everest.

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