I’d like to say that week #3 of our vegan travel challenge was as veggieful and exciting as weeks #1 and #2 of Veganuary, but it wouldn’t be true. Week #3 has been rammed with challenges, from trying to be more confident about saying we’re vegan to crazy cheese cravings. Actually, I was craving cheese like it was the end of the world.
Food cravings are something that I’m lucky to very rarely – in fact, next to never – experience, and I wasn’t at all worried about giving up cheese this month because we’d lived in Taiwan pretty much without it for a year. Turns out that giving up dairy altogether causes cravings because you cut out a certain proteins from milk and an amphetamine-like chemical contained in cheese.
Never one to let my willpower be defeated, I didn’t give into my cheese cravings. Instead, once I’d covered absolutely anything and everything in loads of salt and ate a heap of hummus, my cravings subsided. But craving cheese was just one of a series of vegan challenges this week.
Vegan Travel in Bansko
At the end of our last update on our 31-day vegan travel challenge, I mentioned that we’d just arrived in the Bulgarian mountain town of Bansko. Our first days there weren’t too bad. We had an Airbnb apartment with a decent kitchen and I’d stocked up on enough vegan snacks from Sofia to last us a good amount of breakfasts.
Vegans in Bansko have very limited choice, so I took advice from a couple of other vegan travel bloggers to toughen up and start telling restaurant staff that we’re vegan. I mentioned a cafe in Bansko last week who happily made us vegan pea soup after I chatted to the expat who runs it on Facebook, but letting locals working in Bansko’s mehanas (traditional restaurants) know came with very mixed results.
When we explained that we didn’t eat meat, cheese, butter and so on to staff, one of three things happened: 1) they said “ohhhhh, no” and were concerned we wouldn’t be able to try any of the restaurant’s specialities, 2) they stared blankly and waited for us to point at the menu, or 3) they rolled their eyes, shrugged and couldn’t care less.
The most desirable of these actions was definitely number 1. In these cases, waiters tended to hurriedly look at all the salads and vegetable dishes to find ones that could be made without cheese – though they always reminded us that it would taste better with cheese. We mostly ended up with grilled veggies, plain salad, bean soup and either bread or potatoes.
The most undesirable response was definitely the third option, which happened in one particular restaurant and made us feel uneasy and awkward throughout the whole time we were there. The waiter has no patience for us not eating meat or dairy, and despite telling him we didn’t eat meat, he gave us a bean soup with floating chunks of meat in it and told us that’s just the way it came.
In Bansko, I got hangry. Though we were able to find a few places to eat vegan in Bansko, what we were eating was incredibly repetitive and eating on the fly was an impossibility. Eating out meant risking that maybe food wouldn’t be vegan or just eating chips. Cooking in the apartment was limited because much of the local produce in Bansko was going rotten (and no one wants to eat rotten veg).
Now add in the fact that we were skiing – which is a pretty intense sport once you get going – and still working our usual online jobs, and hunger was a seriously real thing. I was crazy grumpy, which was nearly always directed at Luke (who coped somewhat better with the situation as he’d been packing in plates of chips at every opportunity). I’m not sure that I can recall ever feeling as hungry as I did at the beginning of this week.
I guess that being in amazing vegan-friendly cities like Sofia and Brighton meant we never had a problem before. The combination of a vegan diet in a small town where people have no idea why someone would choose to cut meat and dairy out of their diet and who don’t have a varied supply of food because of the mountainous location meant veganism was hard work.
Moving on to Plovdiv
I was so relieved and excited to be moving on to Bulgaria’s second largest city, Plovdiv. As you can probably guess, Plovdiv is a much more vegan-friendly place than Bankso (though nowhere near as much so as Sofia) and it’s been pretty straightforward to find good vegan options here. We’ve been fortunate to stay at a guesthouse where the staff have been very accommodating with a vegan breakfast, even going out to specially get us soy milk. They also explained to us that Plovdiv’s location means that the fruits and veggies are some of the most delicious in the country.
There are two local vegan restaurants in Plovdiv that we’ve discovered so far where we’ve been able to get usual favourites like hummus, rice-based dishes, lentil soup and, of course, potatoes. We also devoured a huge and delicious vegetable hot plate in – oddly enough – a pizza restaurant with vegan options, and come across a hotel restaurant with a whole vegan menu. Needless to say that our eating over the past couple of days has improved massively compared to how we were doing in Bansko.
How Are We Doing Now?
Despite all of this week’s difficulties, we’ve not given up on our vegan travel challenge. We’re determined to see it through to the end of the month and evaluate how we’re feeling after having committed to being vegan for the whole time. Right now we’re in a fortunate position of being in Plovdiv with plenty of local advice and friendly people to help, and things are feeling more positive again.
We’re not sure where we’re going to be travelling in week #4 yet, but we’re thinking about moving onto Macedonia…
This week has thrown up loads of different challenges and I’d love to hear your thoughts on ending up hangry, cheese cravings and vegan travel in the comments below. If anyone has any vegan travel recommendations for Plovdiv or thoughts on vegan travel Macedonia, definitely let us know too!