Sunday, April 29, 2012

Vegan Fest!

We had a lovely stay in Bologna after driving the crazy highways from Venice. We stayed 5 nights in Bologna as our hotel and the city were so nice. Near Bologna, we went to the Lamborghini museum and factory, Ferrari museum and Ducati museum and factory.

We also went to a music museum, medieval museum and the Mambo; modern art museum of Bologna! Great things to see! At the local grocery store we also discovered vegan chocolate hazelnut spread and vegan frozen ice cream cones from the yummy Valsoia company. We made great vegan sandwhiches with ingredients from the healh food chain Natura Si.

Then we headed off to Forte Dei Marmi, a lovely seaside town filled with bicyclists and vacationers. The scenery of sea and low rolling mountains is quite lovely. Plus we are just 8 kms away from the Vegan Fest. We have attended daily! It is full of workshops (in Italian), booths of people selling vegan products, vegan food, animal welfare organizations, movies, art shows etc. I saw a poster of a man holding up his dog and I was using my phone to translate the text. An older lady came up to me and tried to explain the poster. She said the man is a porno actor. I was sure I heard wrong and asked again. She spoke to the other lady in Italian and offered back to me "you know Hot movies." Of course it made the slogan much funnier; "I have seduced and abandoned, but never my pets" or something to that effect if my translate app is correct.

The vegan food is a yummy highlight! So far we have sampled; gelato, crepes, chocolate dipped frozen fruit bars, spring rolls, salads rolls, a noodle dish, a tofu and veggie casserole, and hot dogs.

We also had a fine dining 4 course meal at the temporary restaurant. And my favorite; Vegusto No Moo vegan cheese. It is awesome! We made sandwiches with it and had cheese and crackers.

As well we were able to watch a free viewing of the movie Vegucated. Lucky for us it was in English. Vegucated is a feature-length documentary that follows three meat- and cheese-loving New Yorkers who agree to adopt a vegan diet for six weeks.
It is a good introduction to veganism. Check out the trailer here:

VEGUCATED trailer from Marisa Miller Wolfson on Vimeo.
We also randomly met up with the lovely vegan blogger Kristen and her friend Chris. They were both terrific and we had a nice chat. She runs the awesome blog Will Travel for Vegan Food. She even posted a photo of us on her blog

We are soon off to go back to Vegan Fest to try out the pizza. Our next destination in a few days is the Isle of Capri!

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Saturday, April 21, 2012

Adventures in eating

We arrived in Bologna today via our Fiat 500 car rental. We ate at a vegetarian restaurant for a late lunch. Unfortunately it was not very good. It was a salad made out of a thistle like weed. It actually scratched my throat! I felt like a cat with a hair ball. Two paws down!

Although we generally do ok with finding vegan food in Italy, there are things to watch out for. Did you know black pasta is generally colored with squid ink? We also found pork fat in bread sticks and anchovies in tomato sauce. The other difficulty is many that grocery stores are closed Sundays and close by 8:30 in the evening. I am grateful for the international Happy Cow Vegetarian Directory which list vegetarian and veg friendly restaurants and stores. The iPhone app version of the website; Veg Out, is terrific with gps location of veg restaurants and stores right from your phone.

I am really looking forward to Vegan Fest starting on April 27, 2012 for week. It will be nice to have a large selection of vegan food and products altogether in one place!

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Location:Adventures in eating

Friday, April 20, 2012

All we have is this moment...

"A grandfather is someone with silver in his hair and gold in his heart. ~Author Unknown"

J's grandpa passed away on April 17, 2012, leaving behind his wife of 66 years. We are both heart broken by the loss of this wonderful man. Since I started dating J nearly 20 years ago, I have felt completely a part of his family. His grandfather was simply wonderful, caring, and welcoming. He is dearly missed.

Being away from home at times like this is very difficult. We have been reminiscing about J's grandpa over the last few days, cherishing his memory. He and grandma enjoyed a trip to Venice years ago. As we wander the streets and float down the canals, we wonder if we have glanced upon the same buildings.

"The history of our grandparents is remembered not with rose petals but in the laughter and tears of their children and their children's children. It is into us that the lives of grandparents have gone. It is in us that their history becomes a future." ~Charles and Ann Morse

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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

I ❤ Italy

We landed in Milano, Italy on April 13, 2012. What a culture shock, coming from Nepal! It's mind blowing that extreme poverty and lack of resources can exist in one area of the world while another enjoys abundance.

We stayed 3 nights in Milano. We wandered around, including getting lost for hours looking for an art show in Piazza San Marco. We found the Piazza but apparently it was in the wrong city! We enjoyed vegan meals and even stocked up at a health food store to make our own sandwiches. We visited the impressive Duomo cathedral as well. Then we had to move on due to the annual furniture expo. Talking to a local woman it is apparently bigger than fashion week and is full of amazing design events and parties. Unfortunately hotels were all booked or super expensive, but we did get to move onto lovely Venice!

We arrived in Venice on April 16, 2012 and will be staying five nights. The city is amazing with winding, narrow streets, lined with breath taking historic buildings. We have a room with a kitchenette in a charming B&B. This means I can whip up money saving, home made vegan delights! It's been nice to cook! I also picked up a terrific black poncho and a capelete; a girl cannot have too many cape-like coats, especially in Europe!

We are excited to check out a Venice exhibition of 100 of Salvador Dali's artworks. The exhibition is called Dali Universe. Other plans include a gondola ride, more museums, more street wandering and eating yummy vegan Italian food. Don't even get me started on the mouth watering array of olive oils!

On April 21, 2012 we will depart Venice in our Fiat 500 rental car. We are heading towards Florence, stopping at the Lamborghini Museum and perhaps the Ferrari Museum as well. J loves cars. The most exciting news, at least for me, is that we will end up in Forte dei Marmi on April 26, 2012, to attend the nearby, week long, Vegan Fest! The festival is free and expects 30,000 attendees! It is full of workshops, concerts, events, vegan products and stores and of course amazing vegan food. I AM SO EXCITED!!! J gets two car museums and I get to be a networking vegan nerd for a week. I don't think I'll even sleep.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Awakening the soft spot

It is a daily struggle to decide whether to give to beggars. Knowing that there is a lack of a well developed safety net we sometimes give money to disabled adults. Around Nepal there are signs asking people to not give money to children begging in the streets as it encourages them to keep doing it and harms them in the long run. However it is heart breaking to look into the eyes of a six year old child asking for money while you enjoy your leisurely breakfast. I imagine many of the children are begging as their family or caregiver requires it. A young boy about seven and girl about six approached us today. I know providing them money can be damaging but I could not turn away with out buying them some breakfast. I recently read in the local paper about a mother killing herself and her two children as she could not afford about $3.00 Canadian in school fees. On the trek we saw a child happily dragging around his one wheeled bicycle.(Had there been a bike repair shop in the vicinity I can tell you J would have fixed it on the spot). And another child playing volley ball with a wadded up plastic bag over a piece of twine.

Everyday there is something that makes you smile and something that breaks your heart. I guess the secret is to not become immune to either. And to do what we can to make this world a kinder and more equitable place. I am so grateful, and protective of, our Canadian safety nets, such as universal health care. There is always room for improvement but we must be vigilant in protecting it. I know compared to majority of the world I am extremely fortunate. If you have not already seen it, take a moment to watch the following video, A Miniature Earth;

There are some charities operating here including the terrific SOS Children's Village; a wonderland faith neutral child sponsorship program. (We have sponsored a girl in China for a few years via this program.) Some other great charities include: Kiva which provides micro loans to assist people in developing their own businesses and providing a path out of poverty, Smile Train; which repairs cleft palettes, UNICEF and Red Cross - disaster relief.

Watching the following video and reading the accompanying book; The Life You Can Save a few years ago changed my approach to charitable giving.

We think that by protecting ourselves from suffering we are being kind to ourselves. The truth is, we only become more fearful, more hardened, and more alienated. We experience ourselves as being separate from the whole. This separateness becomes like a prison for us, a prison that restricts us to our personal hopes and fears and to caring only for the people nearest to us. Curiously enough, if we primarily try to shield ourselves from discomfort, we suffer. Yet when we don’t close off and we let our hearts break, we discover our kinship with all beings. His Holiness the Dalai Lama describes two kinds of selfish people: the unwise and the wise. Unwise selfish people think only of themselves, and the result is confusion and pain. Wise people know that the best thing they can do for themselves is to be there for others. As a result, they experience joy.

When we see a woman and her child begging on the street, when we see a man mercilessly beating his terrified dog, when we see a teenager who has been badly beaten or see fear in the eyes of a child, do we turn away because we can’t bear it? Most of us probably do. Someone needs to encourage us not to brush aside what we feel, not to be ashamed of the love and grief it arouses in us, not to be afraid of the pain. Someone needs to encourage us that this soft spot in us could be awakened and that to do this would change our lives. [Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart, p. 87-88]

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Saturday, April 7, 2012

Trekking in the Himalayas

We started with a night in Pokhara and the next day we made our way to the beginning of the trek in the Annapurna area. We started our trek at around 900 meters elevation and ended at 2750 meters. It was about 50 kms round trip. However, the more important measurement is that it was very steep! We spent our first night in Hille in an average trekking tea house. The unheated room consisted of two wooden platforms with foamie mattresses, a bottom sheet, pillow and blanket. The tea houses and rest stops along the way generally have a non-flushing squat toilet, which you have to throw a bucket of water down after you are finished. The first day of trekking was tiring but enjoyable. It was a steady incline up to the first tea house.

The second day nearly killed me. The trek was straight up on stone stair cases carved into the side of the mountain. I kept hoping for a flat spot around every bend and instead I was met with a seemingly unending climb. I was not grateful for much at this point, but I was certainly grateful for my trekking poles. They are amazing devices and I am a convert to hiking with poles from now on. It's like having a personal hand rail. At one point our guide tried to reassure me by saying that the lunch break was just up and over the trees where some other hikers could be seen as faraway dots. I promptly burst into tears. He then offered that a donkey ride could be possible. I assure you that the donkey would not say the same thing. The poor donkeys already haul up the supplies for the tea houses and villages, they certainly do not need to haul me up! Besides it seemed like less of a defeat to just turn around. However, I regained my composure and made it to the lunch spot. After that the worst of the climb was over. It was still steep but there were flat spots and more reasonable height gain. I was in awe of the local people zipping up the steep trek, often in flip flops, hauling heavy loads. Below is a photo of part of the trek and a donkey hauling up chickens.

We made it to our second stop for the night in another simple unheated tea house. As you climb up it gets colder and I slept with long johns, pants, shirt, fleece, socks and toque, but I stayed warm! It's funny how much more you enjoy things when there are less distractions and time is slowed down. The tea house made the best corn bread, which was actually more like fry bread (bannock). After all the hard work and cool air it tasted like magic. In the evening we gathered around the dining room fireplace, made from an old metal barrel with a stove pipe jutting out and up through the roof. A sweet young cat made me break my rule of not petting animals as we travel. Actually she broke the rule by jumping on my lap and settling in for a snuggle. It made me miss having a cat and I look forward to adopting a rescue kitty when we return. It was blissful to sit around the warm fire, full belly, satisfaction from a day of successful trekking and a warm kitty in my lap.

The evenings have left time to make progress in the Positive Psychology book I am reading; Authentic Happiness, by Martin E. P. Seligman, Ph.D. From a social work perspective, it does focus much more on the individual versus environmental impacts but it comes from a strengths based approach. (I think both individual and environmental factors are important to address.) It is about building upon individual strengths regardless of the persons past or circumstance. It has some helpful insights into the role of mindfulness, savoring, gratitude, kindness, self talk, finding more meaning in your work (regardless of what the actual job is), sense of purpose, in building happiness. I also really appreciated its strong foundation in research and evidence based practices. The author also has a website,, with many of the insightful questionnaires used in the book where you can gauge your own areas of strength and development.

I really enjoyed the following story on mindfulness from the book;
After three years of study, the novice monk arrives at the dwelling of his teacher. He enters the room, bursting with ideas about knotty issues of Buddhist metaphysics, and well-prepared for the deep questions that await him in his examination.
'I have but one question,' his teacher intones.
'I am ready, master,' he replies.
'In the doorway, we're the flowers to the left or to the right of the umbrella?'
The novice retires, abashed, for three more years of study.
(page 109, Martin E. P. Seligman)

On the next day of the hike I resolved to be more positive and mindful as I trekked. The day offered many opportunities to connect to the present moment. The path way was slick from the last evening's rain and I had to carefully plant each foot on the stones to keep from slipping. Sadly as I rounded one bend I was met with a sickly smell and over the edge of the path, down the embankment was a dead donkey who had obviously slipped from the trail. Along the way you also need to dodge the ample donkey dung. As we headed into the more heavily forested area I noticed a great number of lady bugs dotting the path. This offered another mindfulness moment as I did not want to squish any on the way. So each step and pole was carefully placed to avoid slipping, dung and the little creatures. I am quite sure our porter, who dutifully followed behind me not matter how slow I was, thought I was nuts as I snapped photos of lady bugs, side stepped them and occasionally turned one right side up. As I connected more fully to the present moment I also found I enjoyed the trek more.

We successfully made it to Ghorepani at 2750 meters elevation. J bravely got up at 4:30am and did the hike to Poon Hill, (with an elevation of 3150 meters it should be called Poon Mountain) while I slept. This stop was even colder so I added gloves to my bedtime ensemble. It was so cold that my trusty timex watch stopped working during the night, but once warmed up it started working again, We spent two nights in the village before heading back down. The views of the Annapurna range from Ghorepani are glorious. We opted to cut the trek short by one night and therefore only had one night, two days, to make it down from Ghorepani. The trek down was nearly as hard as the steep day up, as it is so hard on the joints. My legs are burning! It rained a bit on the way down but we missed the worst of it.

The food during the trek has been simple but mostly good. We ate a lot of Dal Bhat, a traditional Nepali dish of lentils, rice, potatoes and a green vegetable. We have now returned to Pokharaand I am looking forward to some more diverse food options, heat, internet, clean clothes, more consistent electricity and western toilets (although the squat ones are really not that bad just a little tougher to navigate at times, such as when one has seized up leg muscles).

The trek was an amazing experience and for me quite an accomplishment. It made me miss our lovely Canadian wilderness and national parks. At this point J and I are planning to come back to Canada for a few weeks in August to take our electric car - Joanie the Tesla, on a road trip, before head to the USA. We are planning on heading to two of our favorite spots, Waterton National Park andKaslo, BC. We are still in the planning stages and will add in other stops along the way for battery charging and exploring. Check out my trek photos here:

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