Detour: Italy… The Good, The Bad, The Croissants

Italy, the land of pizza, pasta and cheese…  Many people would think a trip to the big ol’ European boot would pose a problem for a vegan.  At first, many people would have been correct.  It was not till day 3 of my trip that a trip, plagued with bad luck, turned itself around.   Get ready for a whirlwind food (and a bit of fitness) tour of my experience in Italy with my friend Erica.

First stop… Positano on the stunningly beautiful Amalfi Coast..

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Positano.  WOW. I felt like I was living in a postcard for 2 days.  For this location, my friend Erica and I stayed at an AirBnb in the Montepretuso area of the town.  This was up the mountain and a pretty intense stair climb from the city center.

On night one, we went out with a blind eye.  I settled on going anywhere.  We stopped at the first place we saw after missing the stair path to town and walking on the sidewalk-less roads.  Both of us were starving and our legs were tired.  We ended up at Ristorante Caffe Positano.  It felt like a bit of a tourist trap, pictures of food on the menu, etc.  We went anyway.  After walking miles, we were just happy to see civilization.  No pictures were taken here but I ordered bruschetta  and pasta with tomato sauce.  At first, it came out covered in cheese even though I ordered with “senza formaggio“. The meal itself was nothing to write home about.

Day two started with a planned 4 mile run.  Due to the elevation of Positano, this was disastrous.  It was me either running extremely uphill or extremely downhill.  At one point, I found the steps down to the city and, thinking it was a short way down, ran down them.  Big mistake.  The run (WALK) up was killer.  Feel free to check out my Strava account for routes.  For those into hiking, I am told the Hike of the Gods is along my run route and should be checked out.  We did not really have the time during our trip.

For breakfast that morning, our AirBnB host provided us with a bunch of stuff I could not eat.  Thankfully my friend was not vegan and took on for the team to make us not look rude.  I ate pre-toasted bread with jam, juice and espresso.  It was a sufficient.  Looking back, I should have told her I was vegan.  She probably could have accommodated.   We then headed out for the city.  After exploring all morning, we stumbled upon the CUTEST cafe and overall popular eating establishment in the area, Casa E Bottega.

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Casa e Bottego was an extremely fresh cafe in Positano offering vegan options. So happy to find it.  I had the vegan panini and it was so simple yet so delicious. The ambiance of the cafe is worth going to alone. There is nothing else like it in all of Positano. The seating area is small but worth waiting for. We sat at the “bar” area and it was very enjoyable. We were able to watch the chef prepare food as we waited for ours. Everything was prepared fresh. Nothing frozen or pre-made.  I highly recommend making this a priority stop if visiting Positano.

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Next stop, Naples…

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Naples is quite the city.  It is very busy and not in the tourist sense.  Despite the beautiful back drop of Mt Vesuvius, of all the destinations in Italy, this is the one I would not return to.  If I did return, it would only be for the pizza, and maybe the gelato.

Out first stop in Naples was Perfectoo, a semi Americanized cafe very close to our hotel, Hotel Palazzo Salgar.  Here I had the Vegan Burger. The burger itself was great, the bun, looking back on it, was a bit suspect since I did not feel quite good after eating it. My thoughts are that the bun was not vegan as it had been labeled on the menu.  I suggest going bun-less if you try this place. ALSO, chips listed on then menu are NOT french fries! They are actual chips.

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Next, there is gelato.  Almost all gelato places have a vegan option, they are either fruity or extra dark chocolate.  Typically they are labeled in the case.  I tried as many as I could.  Just note, the cones are typically not vegan.  Your best bet is to go with the cup OR the gluten free cone many places offer. Always ask first.

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It would not have been a trip to Italy without pizza.  We went to one of the top places in Naples and their marinara pie was amazing.  Pizzeria Trianon was established in 1923 and you can tell they have perfected their pizza making in those years.  I ate my entire pizza, like always and I suggest you do the same.  Oh and it costa whole 3.50 euros.

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Last but not least, Naples opened the doorway to croissants, VEGAN croissants.  To be honest, I was not completely thrilled with my food in Italy, as a whole, at this point.  All my meals not listed, consisted of fruit, chips and chocolate purchased at the grocery store, Gran Gusto.  Not the healthiest and not the most fulfilling. Then… at a gelato shop my last night in Naples, I see a sign for “vegano cornetto” aka vegan croissant! My plan was to wake up early the next day and go get one! Sadly, I woke up too late and missed my chance. LUCKILY, this was not the only place in Naples with a vegan croissant.  They are everywhere and not just in Naples, in all of Italy.  I found this out hawking every place we passed by on my sad walk to the Napoli Centrale train station.  On the right, river side, I spotted a sign on the outside pastry case, vegano! They has apricot filled vegan croissants, I scooped one up. It was delicious.  It was my first. I will never forget it.

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Before we move on to Rome, I want to note something that did not disappoint, my run in Naples.  While exploring the day before, my friend and I saw several runners on the water front path, this was good news for my 4 miler the next day.  I left from my hotel and enjoyed a really nice morning run.  Naples runners are friendly and I waived to nearly everyone.

Please be advised………… DRIVERS IN NAPLES ARE WILD.  Stop signs more or less do not exist. Crossing the street, even at cross walks, is risky.  You have to be aggressive.  That being said PLEASE BE CAREFUL if you run here.  Its bad enough walking around during the day, running in it is even worse.

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Now off to Rome…

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Rome… where I truly fell in love with Italian food.

Steps away from our hostel, The Yellow, in Rome, we found the most lovely authentic Italian restaurant, Rifugio Romano, so wonderful we went twice!  Unlike other places in Italy, this restaurant had an entire vegan menu.  Big plus!  We sat outside and it was perfect.

On my first trip, I had pizza with vegan mozzarella and it was so creamy. I was very impressed.  We also enjoyed the vegan antipasto which contained really interesting garlic bread balls, house made vegan mayo, fried rice ball, hummus, and marinated tofu. Me and my non-vegan friend both enjoyed it.  For dessert, they had a special cake on the menu, I would provide details but I spaced when they mentioned chocolate.

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On visit number two, my friend and I shared a lovely bottle of vegan red wine.  For dinner, we ordered the bruschetta, mixed salad and gnocchi. The gnocchi was in walnut sauce and to DIE for.  Truly a MUST STOP if in Rome.

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After spending the day getting turned down from countless religious establishments for having our knees exposed, we found something that did not let us down, lunch at Crispy.  Crispy is a market/cafe with sandwiches, juices and salads, among other things!  I had a vegan”ham” sandwich and it really hit the spot.

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I know you’re not surprised.. but.. I found croissants in Rome..

Right around the corner and on route to all the Rome tourist locations, was a small cafe named Synbiofood.   To my enjoyment, they has vegan croissants and other vegan baked goods.

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Roma Termini, I love you, but only for your croissant sandwich.  The terminal has multiple locations with vegan sandwiches and croissants but not a vegan croissant sandwich like this one from the Juice Bar.  It made travel day delicious.

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My Rome run was the highlight of my trip (run-wise).   I woke up early and even after a night of lots of Italian beer, I went for my “long run”.  It was delightful. Since I was able to get out so early, barely any tourists were around!  I did loops around the Colosseum and ventured around the area taking in all the touristy sites before they were crowded by annoying selfie sticks.

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Portofino

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Portofino was nothing special for the vegan books, but boy was it super cute.. and super ritzy.  The little waterfront town was filled with designer stores and overpriced drinks.  One good thing about having drinks in Italy that I have no mentioned thus far, snacks.  They give you snacks.  Whether it is chips or peanuts, it is pretty cool.

We set out in Portofino hungry, but still too early for  dinner.  So we ventured around and found a cute wine bar with outside seating facing the beautiful Portofino harbor.  This was a prime people watching location.  We had a few drinks and an awesome snack plate.

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For dinner, I wanted pizza and my friend wanted pasta so we found a place close by, and also on the harbor, that had both at Da Nicola.  At Da Nicola, me and Erica split the marinara pizza, pasta and a salad.  Our meal was alright.  Nothing special really.

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Florence

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Starved from travel day, we set out in Florence to find somewhere to eat.  Since a lot of places close after lunch but before dinner, our timing was pretty bad.  It was 2:45 pm, horrible timing to get a good meal.  Anyway, we stumbled upon Konnubio down the street from our hotel.  What caught our eye was how beautiful the inside was, then we saw the menu.. with.. VEGAN OPTIONS.  Luckily, the staff was amazing and sat us despite the time! We ordered the Cous Cous appetizer and the Chickpea salad for lunch.  Both were amazing and we were so thankful to have stumbled upon such a great place with vegan options.

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And then there was our late night dinner at Universo Vegano.  Two separate friends had told me to go here while I was in town, I do not know how I almost forget, let alone totally missed a visit at the restaurants other location in Rome.  Anyway, I got there just in time before closing.  The staff was super friendly and though I wanted to order everything on the menu, I ended up with the burger and a delicious looking dessert.  If I was staying in Florence I would have went back.

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And then there was more gelato. I was OVERLY excited when we stumbled upon this place.  A friend had suggested it but I had forgot to look up the address while in Wifi zone.  Luckily we passed it by accident!  The place… Festival del Gelato.  They had soooooo many vegan fun flavors!  I was impressed by the clear labeling as well.

Note: Only the gluten free cone is vegan.

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My final (sigh) European croissant was enjoyed at the Shake Cafe.  This little cafe in the Duomo area was super cute and in addition to their various vegan croissants, they had an assortments of juices and smoothie bowls suitable for vegans.  I actually took their vegan bagel sandwich to go for my plane ride to Vienna and it was a treat.

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THE LAYOVERS

During this trip, my friend and I used our American Airline reward miles and it left us with some pretty lofty layovers in London and Vienna.

I had huge dreams for London… a vegan pub with authentic English fare, an all vegan ice cream shop. Dreams crushed.  We arrived at The Coach and Horses around 9 pm.  Late for dinner I know! Sadly,  they were done serving food. 😦 We then ventured on and found a Thai restaurant. Nothing special.  After our meal, we ATTEMPTED to get ice cream at Yorica.  We showed up just as they were cleaning up. Bad luck in London.

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On the way home, however, our layover was lovely.  We had about 8 hours in Vienna and we decided to have our meal at Swing Kitchen.  I had the vegan cheeseburger meal and a cute chocolate cupcake.  I wish I had waited on dessert though, later I found out they had soft serve.  Erica had the falafel wrap.  I did not try it but it sure looked good.

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Well there is that.. my tour of Italy (and London… and Vienna)! I would like to give a HUGE SHOUT OUT to Yelp.  Without Yelp, I would have never found any of these places in the first place.

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