Travel

A Journey through the Mountains and 24 Hours in Zurich 

A short and succinct account of our last day on holiday, spent in Switzerland.

On Monday afternoon, we returned once more to Salzburg train station and boarded another train – this time travelling out of the pretty little city. This marked the beginning of a massive six hour long journey to Zurich, in Switzerland. In The Sound of Music, the Von Trapp’s seemed to experience ease as they escaped through the mountains from Austria, but real life is not as kind; whilst “Hollywood geography” might allow for such an easy journey, the reality is that there is no border between Salzburg and Switzerland. Hence, a very, very long journey between the two countries, redeemed by the breathtaking landscapes that were prevalent throughout the duration of our trip.

Our train travelled through the Austrian and Swiss Alps along the Arlberg Pass, elevated at 5,883 ft. I was fortunate to have a window seat, meaning that at any point that I looked to my right, I was guaranteed a mesmerising view of the mountains. Sometimes this entailed solely a natural landscape, perhaps positioned behind fields of flowers or hills and meadows, and sometimes this presented quaint little rural settlements, with chalets dotted sporadically across the mountains. I used this tranquil journey as an opportunity to both start and finish my new book; my mum and sister used this opportunity as a chance to have a long nap!

We arrived in Zurich at around 9pm and walked straight to our hotel, which was centrally located and a short distance from the station. When we arrived we went straight to our rooms, where we were relieved to sit down after our long journey. Travelling seems to have an unusual tendency to be extremely tiring, despite it actually consisting of sitting stagnantly, as opposed to any form of physical activity. Our hotel in Zurich was probably the nicest hotel of our three leg holiday and so it is a shame that we only got to spent one night there. After a brief stop in the hotel room, we set out to look for dinner, which we soon found in an Italian restaurant on the same road as our hotel. I had penne pasta with pesto, which was a welcome relief from the completely plain pasta that I had had to have for many other meals. After dinner, we walked back to our hotel and went to bed rather early, as we were all exhausted.

***

The next morning my sisters and I all slept through breakfast, but thankfully my mum had gone downstairs and brought us up a tray of food. I had cocoa pops with no milk, whilst the rest of my family had cocoa pops with milk and croissants. As we had to check out rather early, we quickly packed and then went downstairs, depositing our suitcases in the hotel’s storeroom. We left the hotel and were delighted to discover that the weather had warmed considerably overnight – our last day on holiday was a bright and sunny day. We walked from the hotel into the city centre and onto the main shopping street. Here, we beelined straight for Sephora, which is where we have been buying our make up from since we lived in Bahrain, and which we don’t have back home.

After shopping for a while, we settled down in a café to have lunch; I had one of the least pleasant salads of my holiday. Once we had all finished eating, we walked through the city and over a bridge near the water, which provided a very pretty view. As the weather had become rather hot by this point, we sought refuge inside the cool, air conditioned Zurich Museum. A big part of me wants to describe the displays of the museum and comment on the history that I discovered, but a bigger part of me seeks to tell the truth on this blog… and the truth is that we did not actually go into the museum itself. But hey, we ventured into both the café and the gift shop, so surely that counts?

We debated both with each other and the cultured and less cultured parts of ourselves as to whether we were going to make it into the museum, but ultimately self indulgence won, and we dragged our tired feet back to the hotel, consoling ourselves with the knowledge that we had experienced plenty of history over the last week. Although we did not do much during our brief stay in Switzerland, it was nice to get a feel for the city and even nicer to load up on the cosmetics that we cannot get back home! Even from our short time in Zurich, it was clear that the feel of this city was unlike that of our two prior destination, displaying a more urban atmosphere to Salzburg, and even Austria’s capital city, Vienna. Perhaps this was a result of the locations that we visited during our time in Zurich – shopping streets packed with high end chain stores -and the historical void on the last day on our trip, but Zurich seemed to be more more globalised and homogenous than the two Austrian cities, which held a distinct and traditional charm.

And so, today marks the last day of our nine day holiday, that we spent divided between Vienna, Salzburg and Zurich. This holiday was the first time that I have been to not one but two German speaking countries and have been exposed to their subsequent cultures… and food – my family has certainly eaten their fair share of apple strudel. Over all, it has been an amazing holiday, packed with art and history and music. Highlights definitely included the The Sound of Music tour, which we embarked on in Salzburg, and visiting the three beautiful palaces / galleries in Vienna.  On this holiday, we have visited some of the most aesthetic places that I have ever been: architectural beauty has been a recurrent theme throughout. Similarly, the natural landscapes have certainly been plentiful, be it the from the train window on our aforementioned journey through the Alps or permanently visable on the skyline throughout our time in Salzburg.

Two more places that I can scratch off my beloved scratch map!

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Culture and Languages · Film and Television · History · Travel

Music, Mozart and Mountains: Three days in Salzburg 

It was not from the station, but rather from the train window, that I first got my first glimpse of Salzburg. And my first impression, right from that very first glimpse, was that Salzburg is beautiful. We travelled between vast, lush hills, dotted with picturesque, pastel chalets, and admired the tall mountains, as they stood proud, overlooking the grassy foreground. The closer we got to the station, the better the view from the window got. Once out of the train, and out of the station, the view only continued to impress, as we passed through the beautiful scenery on the way to our hotel, whilst the mountains remained visable on the horizon from every angle.

Once we had checked into our hotel, we got a taxi into the town centre, as our hotel was a little too far to walk in the intense heat. The town itself was as pretty as the natural landscape: narrow, cobbled streets presented beautiful churches and buildings at each end. We stopped for lunch at a fish restaurant / café, before continuing to walk around the city. We walked up to the Salzburg Museum, but unfortunately it was set to close in half an hour, so instead we reverted to the philistine within us all and sat in a café outside of the museum and had an ice cream (or three in my dad’s case). I had a watermelon lactose free ice cream, which I was delighted to find, but found too sweet to finish.

Once we had sampled pretty much every ice cream flavour available between the five of us, we continued with our walk through the pretty little city. Although we did not stop anywhere in particular, we did observe many attractions from the outside, including the Cathedral and Mozart’s family home. While exploring the city, we were particularly surprised to witness so many people wearing traditional Austrian clothing. After dinner, which we had at an Italian restaurant, we took a walk further out of the bustling inner city. We walked down by the River Salzach, which is the main river that runs through Salzburg, and discovered a pretty little bridge covered in padlocks. From the bridge we obtained a beautiful view over the beautiful city. The natural landscape was breathtaking, not least due to the ever prevalent mountains visable on the skyline.

***

Day Two in Salzburg saw us leaving the hotel at about 11 am and taking a taxi to Mirabell Platz. That is, of course, after we enjoyed the hotel’s ‘vegetarian breakfast’ offering: six pieces of cheese on a plate. We walked around the streets for a while, before having lunch (a salad for me – what else?) at a nice little restaurant on the corner. Unlike the previous days spent in Austria, Saturday was certainly not a hot day – the air was cold and the rain was seemingly endless – and thus we were relieved to be inside. After lunch, however, came the main event of the day and absolute highlight of my holiday life: at around quarter to 2, we got on the coach to begin the The Sound of Music tour.

The first stop on the tour was Leopoldskron Palace, which is the gardens that the Von Trapp gardens were filmed at, including the water with the famous lake scene. Interestingly, the garden and exterior shots of the Von Trapp mansion are filmed at a different location to the house itself. Thus, to film the outdoor scenes, each scene was filmed twice, at the two respective locations, so that frames with the garden background and frames with the house as the background could be intertwined. The gardens and lake were absolutely stunning and the mountains were in their most visable glory yet. What’s more, water was so clear that in all photos the house reflected perfectly, so that when you turned your camera upside it looked the same.

After we finished taking photos at Leopoldskron Palace, we boarded the bus again to travel to our next destination: Hellbrunn Palace. On the bus The Sound of Music singalong was in full swing – at least it was for my sister, the two girls behind us and me, who were unfortunately the only people singing! When we arrived at Hellbrunn Palace, where the familiar yellow Von Trapp mansion stood, it was raining rather heavily, but this did not stop us from posing for many a photo in front of the gazebo where the Liesal and Rolf scene was shot. We could not enter the gazebo because there was a wedding taking place, which we stopped to watch… a great added attraction!

Back on the bus, we travelled passed Nonnberg abbey, which is the abbey that the nuns lived at and that Maria was at, both in the film and in real life. We sang along to many more songs during this leg of the journey and admired the beautiful Salzburg Lake District through the window. At one point, we got out of the bus to take some photos of a little settlement on the side of the mountain. These breathtaking views are some of the views that are included in the introduction to The Sound of Music, when the camera pans over scenes of the hills. I can certainly confirm that they are just as amazing in real life.

Next, we travelled to a small village just outside of Salzburg, called Mondsee. We took a little (scarily small for what it was) train through the mountains, to reach the centre of the village. Directly in front of us stood the chapel that both the real Maria and film Maria got married at. In order to get out of the rain, we rushed to a little café called Braun Café, which the tour guide recommended as award winning for its Apple Strudel, which we had to try. Furthermore, this café was actually partially rented during the filming of The Sound of Music, as the children used it to change their clothes. Once we had finished in the café, we went into the chapel and got to walk down the isle, just as both Maria’s had done before us. After an hour, we boarded the bus once more and began our journey back to Mirabell Platz. Once we got back to Salzburg city centre, we ended at Mirabell Gardens, which is where many of the most iconic Salzburg scenes in the film were shot. This included the fountain that featured in the Doe a Deer dance, as well as the steps, the gates and many other famous features. After posing for multiple photos within the garden, we quickly departed in pursuit of dinner, but mainly because it was so cold!

***

With Sunday came our last day in Salzburg and in Austria. Once again, we took a taxi into town, however could not go into the Cathedral as intended, as Sunday mass was taking place. Instead, we visited the Salzburg Museum. We started with the Art Royal display, which contained a number of pieces that had been borrowed from the Louvre. These pieces were mainly sketches which, although I did not like all of them, were refreshing to see, as sketches don’t usually get a spotlight in galleries. Once we had looked at all the art that the Louvre had to offer, we continued up onto the upper floors, where we saw many pieces of art, as well as artefacts. Interestingly, the sight of the Salzburg Museum was the place that Jewish and Catholic books were burnt during the Nazi regime.

After we had finished exploring the museum, we had a quick lunch (more salad!) and then headed to a stage where the Salzburg Festival, which is currently taking place, was being streamed. We watched an opera that we ended up getting thoroughly stuck into, despite it being entirely in German. We’re pretty sure that we guessed what the plot is about, but in all honestly, we could’ve been completely wrong. From what we were able to gather, the opera was about a man who sells his soul to the devil. Then, his sister makes a false pact too, but as a way to try and get his soul back. She manages to take the key and unlock the room of souls, and the man and his soul, as well as many other people, are reunited. Then again, it could have been a completely different story; after all, the German family behind us was roaring with laughter, even though we had interpreted it as a really intense drama.

Finally, after buying a number of souvenirs, we headed to Mozart’s family home – the second Mozart museum of our trip. After all, it is only right to end our time in Salzburg with something Mozart related. We walked through the many rooms, before beginning our journey back to our hotel, through the beautiful little city that had been our home for the last three days.

Arts · Culture and Languages · History · Travel

Vienna: Days 2 and 3

While the Schönbrunn Palace (which I visited and wrote about on Tuesday) was the Hapsburg’s summer residence, the Hofburg was the imperial winter residence. Situated in the centre of Vienna, and not too far from our hotel, it was here that we set off to on Wednesday morning. Our visit to the Hofburg comprised of three main attractions: the Silver Collection (Silberkammer), the Sisi Museum and the Imperial Apartments (Kaiserappartments). 

We entered through a large arch, that led to a dome shaped room with an ornate ceiling. From here, we arrived at the Silver Collection, which was the first of the three places that we explored. The Silver Collection contained extensive cases packed with different silver and gold objects, as well as ceramics and items made out of glass. The objects were all domestic and largely consisted of cutlery, crockery and tablewear. This vast collection dates back to the 15th century; the title of Silver Chamberlain was first recorded at the court of Emperors Frederick III and Maximilian I. However, whilst the collection was an undoubtedly interesting insight into the court culture that the Hapsburg’s enjoyed, to me the Silver Collection was not the most enthralling bit of the museum – it began to seem a bit repetitive after the first seven or eight rooms and, to be honest, a lot of the crockery was not too dissimilar to that which my grandma has on display in her living room.

Following on from the Silver Collection was the Sisi Museum, which was very interesting, especially as Empress Elisabeth (Sisi) is not a figure that I had previously known anything about. Elisabeth, who was married to her cousin Franz Joseph, was the Empress of Austria and Queen of Hungary between 1854 and 1898, when she was assassinated in Geneva aged 60. Through exploring the rooms of the museum, and listening to the commentary on the audio guide, I learnt a lot about the longest serving empress of Austria, who was noted for being both deeply beautiful and deeply unhappy, and desperate to be out of the scrutinising constraint of the public eye. The display contained many person items of the Empress, including fans, parasols and a couple of dresses.

From the Sisi Museum we entered the Imperial Apartments. As the Hofburg was the home of the Hapsburg’s for over 600 years, the palace was made up of numerous apartments belonging to different people. The apartments that we were able to explore were those belonging to Elisabeth and Frank Joseph, who we had just learnt about in the previous museum. Most of the furniture and designs can be dated to the 19th century, although there were some older pieces. Similarly to the Schönbrunn, there were many beautiful chandeliers in these rooms, as well as seemingly hundreds of decadent mirrors, which provided innumerable photo opportunities! After we had finished navigating through the many different rooms, we headed to the restaurant for lunch, before admiring the gardens.

After a short break spent back in the hotel, we walked to the Mozart Museum, Mozart Haus. The museum was quite small, although it was spread over three stories, and was set in an apartment that Mozart had rented for a number of years. Mozart himself was actually from Salzburg, thus the main collection of his things is not situated in Vienna. However, despite the small size of the museum, it was still very interesting and an enjoyable experience, particularly as the audio guide had masses of information. We stayed in the Mozart Museum for just over an hour, before heading to a nearby restaurant for dinner, for which I had a delicious couscous.

After dinner, we returned to the hotel to get ready, before rushing out to a concert at a 19th century music hall called the Kursalon.  Here we listened to an orchestra play a number of pieces that were mainly composed by Mozart and Strauss. The performances included orchestral music, opera and even some dance. There were many famous pieces, for example from The Magic Flute and Einer Kleiner Nachtmusik. In addition, the venue itself was absolutely beautiful. The only negative – or rather hilarity – was that the woman sitting behind me decided that it was okay to sing along to the piano music! The concert finished at about half ten, at which point we returned to our hotel for the night.

***

On Thursday, we woke up relatively late in comparison to the early starts on the previous days. Once we were all ready, we set off to the main attraction of the day: Belvedere Palace. Whilst Belvedere compromises of several buildings, situated within the amazing gardens, it was the Upper Belvedere that we chose to explore. The building itself is a magnificent baroque palace, dating back to the early 1700s, and was the summer residence of Prince Eugine. We paused to admire the building’s exterior, as well as the garden – although we soon found out that the best view of the this came from the upstairs windows.

The inside of the Upper Belvedere consists of a fantastic art gallery, housing many famous works. This included the largest collection of Gustav Klimt’s artwork, including the world famous ‘The Kiss’ and ‘Judith’. We saw these paintings, as well as many others, on the first floor of the gallery, which was the main collection of modern art. The first floor also consisted of a number of beautiful rooms that were decorated and designed in much the same style as the other two palaces that we had visited: high white walls and ceilings, adorned with sparkling gold embellishments and vast in every mirrors. After we had finished admiring the artwork and interior of the first floor, we went to the restaurant for lunch, where I had yet another salad due to an impressive inability to eat literally anything else.

After lunch, we headed back into the Upper Belvedere, this time to explore the second floor. Whilst the first floor was dedicated to modern art, this floor was packed with impressionism and realism. The art was not limited solely to Austria artists, as there was pieces by Money, Renoir and Van Gogh as well. My favourite piece was a beautiful garden scene by Monet, who is probably my favourite artist. Also visable from the second floor were the amazing panoramic views of the garden, seen through the vast windows that created the bright, airy light in the gallery. Some of the windows had large windowsills attached to them and would certainly have provided some enviable window seats back when the Belvedere was a palace!

After spending the majority of the day at the Belvedere, we took a taxi back to our hotel for a short rest and to get out of the intense heat. In the evening we headed out for our final dinner in Vienna, which we had in a restaurant a few streets away from Stephanplatz, which is the main square where we have been eating at most nights. For dinner I had plain spaghetti once again, whilst my sisters had pasta, my mum had gnocchi and my dad had a pizza. After dinner, we went to a different restaurant (this time in Stephanplatz) and my parents and sister had dessert.

After dinner and desert, at around 9pm, we headed back to the hotel, full of pasta, strudel and excitement for the day ahead.

To read about my arrival and first full day in Vienna click here

Culture and Languages · History · Travel

Ohhh Vienna: Arrival and Day One

Our immediate impression of Vienna was that it reminded us of Bahrain. Then again, that’s somehow our first impression of nearly every place my sisters’ and I visit, so that’s probably not much to go on! Despite being late evening, we were greeted by hot night air and, of course, large screens displaying photos of Schnitzel above the luggage conveyer belt. I’ve opted to gloss over the fact that people actually clapped when the plane landed because, to be honest, I’m still suspended in shock and disbelief 24 hours on.

We landed in Vienna International Airport, or Flughafen Wien-Schwechat in German, just as the sun was setting, which we watched from the aeroplane window as we descended. As our flight was delayed, and then our luggage was even more delayed, we arrived at our hotel well after dark – and well after dinner time! So, after depositing our bags, we set off to find some food. After walking for about five minutes we came across a busy and buzzing square, where we settled on an Italian restaurant. By the time that we finished eating it was coming up to midnight, and thus we went straight to bed. Sounds seamless doesn’t it? Unfortunately, about half an hour in, my bed literally collapsed! Lifting up the mattress, we found that about three quarters of the slats were missing and I had to relocate to a different bed. Thankfully, the second bed was 100% bed, as opposed to 25% bed, and so I finally was able to sleep.

***

The next morning we quickly got ready, then set out for the Schönbrunn Palace, which is situated just outside of Vienna. Schönbrunn Palace was a summer residence that belonged to successive Hapsburg monarchs. As it is slightly further away than most sights, we had to take a taxi, which, surprise surprise, only held four people. However, after we received our second taxi of the morning, we set straight off and ended up arriving at the palace half an hour earlier than our tickets were booked for. Because we could not go in yet – and because we had not eaten anything and were all hungry – we stopped at one of the palace cafés, where we had apple strudel, naturally. By the time we had finished it had approached eleven; it was time to enter the palace. As we walked up the main path towards the entrance we admired the beautiful exterior, stopping for several photo opportunities. Once we were in, however, it soon became apparent that the interior was the real beauty.

Upon entry we were faced with a grand staircase, enclosed by bright white walls that were dotted with portraits. The ceiling was the main sight though: a magnificent painting, comprising of many rich colours. From the stairs, we walked into the first of many rooms that we were able to explore. This room, as well as many of the others, was decorated with sparkling gold embellishments and each ceiling showcased a massive crystal chandelier. We explored many different types of room, including dressing rooms, dining rooms, the princesses’ day room and many, many sitting rooms, each decorated in different ways. Many walls held portraits of Maria Theresa and her children, whilst others displayed extravagant artworks. When we progressed through into the Grand Tour rooms, we also encountered rooms inspired by Chinese artwork and a room decorated entirely in black. To me, the most beautiful room was a large airy hallway, with multiple windows along both walls, glittering gold embellishments, lights and chandeliers and a massive painting on the ceiling. It was in this room that I was, unsurprisingly, told off for taking photos, after trying my luck too many times!

We had finished admiring the many rooms of the Schönbrunn Palace but our trip was not over: we still had the gardens to explore. First stop though: lunch. Honestly though, our holiday is not revolving around food, which I appreciate is how this is starting to read. Or maybe it is… which is equally okay with me. For lunch I had a goat’s cheese salad (far from ideal for the lactose intolerant, but hey, turns out it’s easier to digest then cow’s cheese – read an article about it here). After lunch, we began to walk through the extensive gardens. There were many trees and fields, as expected of any vast garden, but the main showcase was at the back of the palace. Here, we discovered beautiful landscape gardens, shaped into neat square shapes adorned with multicoloured flowers and fountains. We sat in these gardens for a while, before travelling back to the hotel for a short touchdown to get out of the thirty degree heat.

***

When it was cooler, at around 5pm, we wandered to Stephansdom (St. Stephen’s Cathedral), which is a pretty, gothic cathedral that was built in the 12th century. We took some photos of its exterior, before heading inside to look around. The interior looked much like all cathedrals do, with some beautiful stained glass and lots of candles. However, as it is a working church, unfortunately most of the cathedral was cordoned off, and thus our visit was short and sweet. Once we left Stephansdom, we headed off in pursuit of some dinner. After walking for ages we finally settled on a restaurant, where I had a meal of salmon and potatoes (aka the only thing on the menu that I could eat). After dinner we returned to our hotel as the sun was starting to set over Vienna once more.

Experiences · Health and Food

A Summer of Eliminations

On the early days of a reduced gluten, reduced lactose, tomato free and citrus free diet.

The word ‘diet’, in any context, has the great ability to conjure up negative, often sneered at, images of ‘trendy’ fad diets. Add the terms “gluten free”, “lactose free” or God forbid both at once – especially when it’s accompanied by “I also don’t like chocolate, don’t drink caffeinated drinks and am cutting out fried foods and fizzy drinks” – and cue the parade of eyerolls.

For me, a trendy fad diet could not be further than the truth; although it is true, I don’t like chocolate nor do I drink caffeinated drinks! By way of a very, very brief backstory, as this is not what I intend this post to be about, I have made the decision to eliminate or reduce the aforementioned food types, as well as a number of others that are detailed below, due to gastroenterological problems (great word, hint: I mean stomach aches). Over the last couple of years, I have often found myself very frustrated about the fact that I have come no closer to identifying the cause of the problem, nor, subsequently, to finding a solution, and this has led me to conclude that I need to make active efforts, independently of the (limited) advice given, to find a solution. So, as a result of intense research and even more intense stomach aches, I have made the difficult decision to eliminate or reduce a number of foods and food groups, that have shown themselves to be common causes of stomach aches and food intolerances. This post is dedicated to documenting –  across several days, in an almost diary-like style –  my initial experiences of cutting out these foods, how easy/ difficult I have found it and what challenges and obstacles I have encountered and had to overcome.

Keep reading to see how badly I end up cheating… I’m writing this introduction on Day One, so who knows how well this is actually going to go!

Friday 4th August

From the offset of this dramatic alteration in diet, my intention is not one of cutting these foods out indefinitely, as I do wish to slowly reintroduce different foods throughout the course of this summer holiday. However, as I have only just encountered a few days of very bad stomach aches (and am still experiencing intermittent milder stomach aches), I am temporarily following a very strict diet, which involves eliminating and reducing as many foods as possible that are common triggers for stomach aches. Currently, the extensive list of banned foods is as follows:

  • Tomatoes: Fully eliminated – I had actually predominantly eliminated these before this last bout of stomach pains, as I suspected that they were disagreeing with me
  • Citrus fruits e.g. oranges: Likewise, already (completely) eliminated
  • Brown rice / pasta / bread: Switched to white flour in the majority of cases (but not all – balance is important too), due to its lower fibre content (also cutting down on gluten products in general)
  • Dairy / Lactose: Reduced when possible, e.g. Switching to almond milk (although a full cut of dairy produce in cooking seemed impossible)
  • Fried food / food cooked in a lot of oil: Eliminated
  • Spicy food: Eliminated

Hence, today’s lunch involved a very bland and rather tragic bowl of white pasta with a pinch of salt, following the conclusion that there was really not much else in the house that I could eat (I declined a second portion of plain rice that I had eaten the night before). For dinner my family had a chicken and chips takeaway, which I was able to tweak to fit my diet – grilled chicken instead of fried, which I washed the peri peri sauce off, and oven potato waffles instead of takeaway chips. My first impressions of following such a strict diet are that, tasteless though it might be, it is doable. That said, had it not been a takeaway and instead a meal out, there was nothing on the menu that I could have eaten in an unmodified form.

Saturday 5th August

As it is my sister’s birthday, today has posed a much bigger obstacle diet-wise. I started the day with cornflakes and almond milk, which was unfamiliar, but relatively bearable in small quantities. I initially attempted to drink the almond milk; to say that it was simply ‘unpleasant’ as a drink would be a gross understatement. After breakfast we went to the cinema, where I summonsed all the willpower that I possessed to pass over the snacks and, despite feeling slightly envious of my sister’s nachos, I acknowledged that I should probably just congratulate myself for taking a small step towards general healthiness. So, so far not too bad. Lunch, unfortunately, posed the biggest problem as of this point: Pizza Express is not really intended for the abdominally challenged! I initially intended to order a gluten free version of their new vegan pizza, but due to the tomato base and the fact that tomatoes are the food that I am mostly strictly eliminating, I settled instead on ‘Pollo Forzo’ pasta (pesto, cheese, chicken, mushrooms). Whilst undeniably tasty, this pasta was very rich and so caused me to feel a bit sick; now, I understand that I have to enforce the restricted dairy aspect of this eating plan more rigorously, and stay generally aware of rich creamy foods in addition to my other eliminations. Dinner: plain white pasta, naturally.

Tuesday 8th August
By chance, I stumbled upon lactose free milk in Tesco Express and I am an absolute convert! Lactose free milk is every bit like normal milk, and tastes just the same, but doesn’t bring with it the stomach aches that normal milk does. So, the days of choking down almond milk are over, replaced by a substitute that I didn’t even realise existed! For breakfast I am still eating cereal everyday – and I have recently switched Cornflakes for my new love in life: Crunchy Nut – as I have now modified my diet again, to completely eliminate glucose / wheat for breakfast, instead opting for a lower fibre cereal. As for other meals, as we have been staying in an AirBnB, I have finally broken away from my white-pasta-at-every-meal diet. However, eating out remains to be a massive struggle. For example, at Zizzi, after scouring the allergen menu, I soon realised that there was nothing tomato free that also catered to a gluten or lactose free diet. More importantly though, was my surprise that Zizzi actually had its own separate allergen menu, with pages of tables drawn up illustrating what foods fitted into a ‘dairy free’, ‘vegan’ or ‘glucose free diet’ and further charts detailing common allergens. Whilst these charts may have been slightly redundant to me – because of my not so common elimination of tomatoes at an Italian restaurant, no doubt – to many people these tables would surely be incredibly useful, and probably something that most people are completely unaware of.

Thursday 10th August – My experiences so far: 

As expected, this switch of products is not proving easy. However, neither is it as difficult as one, myself included, would imagine. Dairy free living is particularly noteworthy in how surprisingly unchallenging it is. Indeed, with more and more people embracing a vegan lifestyle, be it for health or ethical reasons, nearly every restaurant menu has vegan options (including Pizza Express and Zizzi, to name a few common chains) and if you enquire, some restaurants even have their own allergen menus. Furthermore, dairy alternatives in supermarkets are plentiful, with even the most basic express supermarkets stocking soya and almond milk at the least. However, for me, who is not going vegan but rather avoiding lactose, the discovery of lactose free milk has been particularly exciting and invaluable, as it means that I can continue drinking something that tastes identical. (Also, since becoming hyperaware of my lactose consumption, I’ve come to realise just quite how much milk I drink!).

As for the gluten reduction: much less easy. Brown carbs are pretty much omnipresent in my family’s diet, and with pizza being my go-to meal out, I think that a complete glucose elimination would have been impossible for me. But, my mum has switched to cooking white rice and pasta for the time being which, due to its lesser fibre content, has certainly made a difference. Furthermore, I have made the decision to remove bread from my morning meal, as this is often when I find it affects me the most. Instead, lower fibre cereal provides a welcome relief.

Tomatoes are definitely a thing of the past for me, at least for the time being. I am lucky that my favourite Italian restaurant actually has a whole section of non-tomato based pizzas and that my mum has started making tomato free options for me, so so far this has been a relatively painless process. However, I have not yet been confronted with the proposal of ordering a takeaway pizza, as a tomato free option does not look too likely! Whilst I have identified tomatoes as the food that I am eliminating most strictly, I have also come to understand that it is objectively the most difficult food on my list to eradicate. It is not a common allergen and is so vital to most cooking. However, the fact that I am succeeding to find alternatives – including at restaurants – demonstrates that it is possible to eat fulfilling meals even without such a presumed staple food.

And lastly, fried food, sugary food, spicy food. Fried food: slightly difficult for me than it should be, simply because crisps are my absolute weakness. But, I have not caved and have instead simply eaten a lone crisp out of my mum’s or sisters’ packet every time that they have been brought into the house. I have also turned down chips twice, and have felt all the more healthy for doing so. Sugary food: easy. Unpopular opinion or not, I’m not a fan and never have been. I imagine (at least judging by the disbelief that often greets me admitting that I don’t like chocolate… or cakes… or any desserts really) that other people would find this elimination more difficult, but to be honest I was largely there anyway, so have not felt the need to modify my diet in this sense, as the amount of refined sugar I eat is minimal regardless. Spicy food: a mixed experience. My mum loves cooking a curry as much as the next Asian mum (!) so we will see how that goes, now that I’m back home and away from the world of out food.

I am going to write a follow up post at the end of the summer holidays, dealing with how this diet fairs up on holiday abroad (help!) and on the process of reintroducing certain foods… so stay tuned for that.