Camping – Dover

I’m forever saying that Great Britain is a beautiful place and that I really should make an effort to see more of it, yes it rains for most of the year and the skies are often gray but for a reasonably small country surrounded by stunning coastlines it’s full of mountains, moorlands, lakes, forests, wide open fields and historic landmarks, pretty much all of which you can explore and nowhere will take you more than a day to get to.

Now with climate change being such an issue, what better way is there to reduce your carbon footprint during the Summer months then by opting for a staycation rather than a plane ride?

So earlier this Summer, I found out I was going to be camping on location for a film, now I’m going to be honest, I might have been a Brownie and a Girl Guide but I’m not really known for my camping skills so to test whether I would be likely to survive a full 10 days, I decided to go on a test camping couple of days, somewhere not too far from London, somewhere I hadn’t been before and because the weather was going to be nice, somewhere I could go on a long walk with the dog and after a little research, I decided that somewhere was going to be Dover.

The only times I’d ever been proper camping before were in Canada, Toronto and Montreal with my Uncles and Cousins when I was a kid, I used to Summer over there a lot and I remember there were signs saying ‘beware bears’ and you had to keep all of your food supplies in a separate tent well away from where you were sleeping just incase one decided to come and raid at night, that in hindsight was pretty extreme camping, but I was younger and braver . . .  

Other than that, I’d only ever glamped in my ‘My Little Pony’ wendy house, in my bedroom, with my duvet but that probably doesn’t count does it?

Anyway after a little googling, I found a campsite online, Fallow Fields, set on a fruit farm in Sandwich, Kent with well attended facilities, an onsite shop, optional fire pits and most importantly dog friendly so booked up and a couple of days later set off!

On the Sunday we arrived, the tent was put up pretty painlessly and then we went on the hunt for a local pub where we could have lunch and found The Black Pig Country Inn  a gorgeous old building dated around 1588, the pub had delightful staff and a really good vegan menu which I’d thoroughly recommend, I opted for the shepherds pie to wash it down, Prosecco . .  .

After lunch, we headed back to the camp site and after a spot of sunbathing/napping/sleeping off the lunch, once it was getting dark, the fire pit was lit, I’d packed enough vegan bbqable food to feed an army (I don’t like the thought of running out of food) I do love a bbq, I always have, maybe it’s the Aussie in me, my Dad used to light up the bbq as soon as he thought Spring hit, even if it was still freezing but even then I loved wrapping up in a blanket and sitting next to him watching the bats flying in the garden whilst he cooked, now being a grown up though, I’ve discovered that Prosecco goes perfectly with a vegan burger! In fact with a Quorn Ultimate Burger, Quorn vegan sausages a Vivera steak and corn on the cob, and yes I did eat all that even after the pub lunch!

The next morning, I discovered, that in the Summer you couldn’t even have a lie in if you tried whilst camping because pretty much as soon as the sun rises, the tent becomes a furnace so it was an early start, lunches were packed and a vegan fry up (cooked on a little gas stove without blowing anything up) devoured before setting off to start a 12 mile hike along The White Cliffs from Dover Castle to Deal.

I’d checked Dolly would fit in my back pack just incase she got tired although she does frequently walk long distances so I was pretty certain we’d be fine and I harnessed my inner Lara Croft with my ensemble to  gear me up and what a wonderful day we had.

At the start of the walk, beautiful sunshine, blue skies and breathtaking views of the cliffs, then whilst walking through the meadows on top to the symphonies of crickets, we spotted numerous types of butterflies amongst the colourful fauna and a crazy bird which I at first thought was a defective sparrow and my friend tried to tell me was an ‘R2D2 bird’ due to the sounds it was making but after a google, I identified as  skylark. the first I’d ever seen.

Just before getting down to the beach at Saint Margaret’s Bay, we stopped at The Pines Garden, Tea Room & Museum for a cup of tea and to fill up our water bottles, the ladies at the cafe were very nice and gave Dolly some treats, I was however a little shocked when I looked at my phone to see I had received a message from my network welcoming me to France, as far as I was aware, I was still on this side of The Channel but I was informed that it was a common error and that I wouldn’t be charged for roaming . . .

Then it was on to the beach to continue our walk. 

We couldn’t have asked for better weather and the walk took us around 5 hours including stops, the coast path was well signposted and I could have happily carried on further although I wish I’d worn sun cream but I’m without a doubt going to  walk some more of the British coast paths when next Spring comes around.

We’re all guilty of travelling abroad to guarantee hot holidays but it’s a shame because we’re missing out on what our own has to offer, and you know what? Camping? I didn’t hate it, I embraced it. Yes there were some screams when a giant beetle ran in to my shower cubicle but I lived to tell the tale and I also survived the 10 days on the film location afterwards too – I was very thankful there for one of the other actresses and the MUA who came to my rescue every time I screamed ‘spider’, I do believe of course that every being,  animal, bird, fish, reptile or insect has its place although I believe that a spiders place is very, very, very far away from my place wherever I might be at any particular time.  

What do I miss about camping? The crystal clear skies filled with stars at night, the being outdoors surrounded by nature, hearing tawny owls calling during the night, the sound of rain beating down on the roof of the tent when you’re going to sleep and the smell of fresh air.

What won’t I miss? Spiders!

Would I do it again? Hell yeah!

If you do plan on camping in Dover and doing the same route, do be aware that dogs aren’t allowed inside the castles at Dover or Deal or in the caves inside the cliffs but I was happy to forfeit visiting those to ensure Dolly didn’t miss out on a fun day out.

Fallow Fields campsite is open again from May 7th to September 20th 2020 and their details can be found at www.fallowfieldscamping.com

 

 

Amsterdam

Last month, I ended up going on a last minute quick break in Amsterdam and who knew it was such a vegan haven?

The purpose of the trip was to test hot tubs (for a friend, not for me) so after getting up at the crack of dawn to make it to the airport for the early flight from Stansted and a rather scary chauffeur ride on the flip side with a driver who had maybe smoked a little too much herb, hot tubs were tested, champagne was drank and it was time to explore.

Everywhere we walked there were vegan fast food vendors and menu’s everywhere had vegan friendly options.

I love going anywhere where you can squeeze in some culture as well as sightseeing and Amsterdam is full of museums that you have to walk through cobbled streets and past canals to get to and of course there’s the ‘red light district’ and the ‘cafe’s’ if they’re your thing. They’re certainly not mine but I did visit the ‘Red Light Secrets Museum’ which was fascinating, I even got to sit in a mock window, as well as ‘The Diamond Museum’ – obviously and the ‘Moco Museum’ that had a Banksy exhibit on and also featured works by some of my favourites, Warhol, Hirst, Koons and Lichenstein.

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By the time I’d done all this, my Fitbit was buzzing telling me I’d smashed my 10,000 steps and I was starving and couldn’t wait to try out The Vegan Junk Food Bar.

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OMG heaven, the menu was divine, now I try and eat healthily most of the time but who doesn’t love a really good vegan burger?

I only wish I’d been there for a week, not only so that I could have visited more museums but also so that I could have eaten there every day and made my way through the whole menu, from vegan sashimi to blue unicorn bread to doggy style not dogs to vegan burgers of all kinds of deliciousness, not to mention the huge variety of loaded fries, smoothies, salads and heavenly desserts!

I went for an original VJFB burger which was divine and the truffle fires, yum! 

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Amsterdam, I will be back and when I am, Anne Frank House and The Van Gogh Museum are next on my list and of course I’ll be going back to The Vegan Junk Food Bar! 

Cancun

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I’ve never understood people who go on holiday during the Summer, I mean, I get it if they have kids and can only holiday when the schools are out but otherwise it just makes no sense to me that people leave England when it’s actually warm, it baffles me, it surely makes much more sense to stay put and enjoy the British Summer and then when it gets cold again in the Autumn and Winter, escape for some Winter Sun doesn’t it?

Well, I have to admit, Mexico had never been top of my list of places I wanted to visit, I’m a big fan of Margaritas and Chihuahuas and I like the odd fajita but when it was decided that we’d be going to Cancun for Xmas, I went along with the flow.

We flew with United Airlines and I have to say it wasn’t great for vegans as they didn’t offer any vegan options, the main in flight vegetarian meals were luckily vegan in both directions so I didn’t starve but it’s a long flight and the rolls offered later were a choice of cheese or turkey so had I not stocked up on supplies at the airport, I’d have arrived in Mexico very hangry having only had one small meal in 10 hours. 

We finally did arrive though, no thanks to the ridiculously long and inefficient passport control and security at Houston as we had to change, note to self, always pay the extra and take a direct flight where possible and NEVER EVER go to Houston airport again, we could also have avoided having to get last minute ESTA’s if we hadn’t transited through the US.

Cancun’s ‘hotel zone’ is perfect if you want an all inclusive, resort style holiday but if you’re just heading out to Coco Bongo Island then it’s pretty much a tourist trap, drinks prices are inflated to the equivalent of that if you were drinking cocktails in London’s West end and you don’t get the feel of Mexico, you could just as well be in Vegas and trying to browse peacefully in the markets there isn’t going to happen, you have vendors constantly harassing you making it a painful experience.

We stayed in Downtown Cancun, only about a 10 minute bus ride to the Hotel Zone and the beaches, buses run every few minutes and you can get from one end of the strip to the other for 12 pesos.

I was impressed with the majority of Cancun bars having gotten rid of single use plastic straws and replaced them with either paper or biodegradable cactus based material straws in a bid to keep the oceans plastic free and protect the wildlife but disappointed and saddened by the amount of ‘captive dolphin experience’ parks advertised.

To visit Mayan ruins and Cenotes, you can either book guided tours or to save money brave the public transport and go it alone. One of the best ways to travel from Cancun to the surrounding areas is by Collectivo, or shuttle bus, they run 24/7 and are much cheaper than the ADO.

We decided to go it alone on our first trip to the Mayan ruins at Tulum, a Collectivo from Cancun to Playa Del Carmen and then another from Playa Del Carmen to Tulum worked out around 85 pesos per person each way, there are boards to read as you walk around to learn about how the Mayans built their villages so it was quite nice for this one walking around alone, we spotted lots of iguanas basking in the sun and a family of coati’s.

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We then used google maps to walk about 2km to Cenote Calavera for our first Cenote experience which is the closest one to the ruins.

Only a small sink hole but an amazing experience, you can jump from the edge in to the water or like me, use the wooden ladder to get down to the water, the water is crystal clear and at first it’s a little weird and tickles when the little fist start to nibble at you but once you get use to them, it’s fine and once you swim in to the cave, you have bats roosting and flying about above you, if like me you’re a big fan of bats, it really is a magical experience.

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Our second trip to Coba was an extra bus ride away, we were told there wasn’t a Collectivo from Tulum to Coba so we got an ADO for that part of the journey, at the ADO stn, we were also told by the ADO ticket seller at Coba that there was only one pick up time coming back so we didn’t get time to visit a Cenote along with Coba and then he sent us to the wrong place to get the bus so missed it and wouldn’t refund our tickets, I think he knew what he was doing and wanted us to pay again but as it turns out there is a Collectivo so my advice would be to steer well clear of the ADO rip off merchants and stick with the shuttle bus and reasonably priced cabs if you want to visit a Cenote after your Coba trip, just negotiate your fair before you get in your cab.

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Coba itself was incredible, being more difficult to get to and therefore less popular with tourists, it was one of the last Mayan ruins that you cold actually walk up and we were lucky enough to be amongst the last people to able to climb to the very top as from the beginning of 2019, climbing the ruin has been stopped. The views from the top were absolutely breathtaking though, jungle as far as you could see with vultures soaring high above.

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Being vegan in Mexico is tough, it’s like being vegetarian was in the UK 10 years ago, very little, if any options on what you can eat on the menus, if we’d have gone with one of the all inclusive resorts then I dare say that eating would have been easier but we wanted to experience the real culture and cuisine of Mexico so I pretty much survived solely on mushroom tacos, mushroom quesadilla and mushroom tortillas for the first week and a half by which time, Montezuma was taking his revenge on my stomach and I was all tacoed out.

We did however find a hidden gem in La Dolce Vita in Downtown cancun, an authentic Italian restaurant, with a few vegan options for me and then a nice surprise when you get the bill and it’s nowhere near as expensive as you’d expect, amazing service, great food and definitely one to seek out if you need a break from Mexican cuisine.

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We took a day trip to Isla Mujares on a catamaran with drinks, snorkeling and parasailing included and a buffet lunch at a beach club but we weren’t left with much time to explore the island or sunbathe at the beach club and the buffet wasn’t up to scratch, neither of us fancied the snorkeling and unfortunately we couldn’t parasail from the catamaran on the day we went as apparently it was too nippy – although it certainly didn’t feel nippy so I don’t think you really get your dinero’s worth with the tour and my recommendation would be to take a speed boat over to the island from the marina first thing and another back in the evening so that you can explore at your own leisure rather than booking a tour for this one.

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I did manage to get some amazing footage at the beach though of a group of brown pelicans diving for fish.

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We decided to save the best for last and visit Chichen Itza, one of the new seven wonders of the world on our last day and for this one we decided to book as a tour as  with travel along with a stop at a Mayan shopping village, entrance to Cenote X’Cajum and lunch thrown in it worked out more cost effective and we’re glad we did.

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We went with Amigo tours and our guide Rodrigo Cat was just brilliant, a very knowledgeable archaeologist of Mayan decent, he was so informative, we definitely came out feeling like we’d learnt a lot  – including how to say hello in Mayan (ma’lob kiin) and have a new found fascination with Mayan history.

Centoe X-Cajum was much, much bigger than Cenote Calavera, open to the sky and 35 metres deep, you can hire life jackets if you want to but the water is still and we were comfortable swimming without despite the depth, no bats but some slightly bigger fish swimming about and I’m sure even bigger ones to be seen by those wanting to scuba dive.

There are an estimated over 6000 Cenotes in the Yucatan but only 2400 of those actually studied and registered, swimming in the Cenotes was one of the highlights of the trip and if I were to go back, I’d definitely seek out some more, places so tranquil yet were once along with the temples, places of sacrifice – eek.

I loved Mexico, learning about the history and culture, the colour, the wildlife, (I have a particular soft spot from the great tailed grackle, as common as a blackbird is here and only a little bigger but with a longer tail, feathers a deep shade of blue and a peculiar melody to their call) and up until a certain point, the food.

It helps to know a little basic Spanish as in a lot of the street food vendors and waiters in the more authentic restaurants don’t always speak much English. I learned the word for ‘mushrooms’ on my first day so that was pretty helpful for me and I started learning Spanish on Duolingo (I don’t know why I didn’t think of that before I went) from then on and by the end of the trip I was happily booking tables and ordering my food and drink in Spanish.

It surprised me how quickly I was picking up the language and as a result, one of my new years resolutions is to stick with Duolingo and be fluent in Spanish by the end of 2019. 

I can definitely see myself visiting again one day, maybe staying further towards the Riviera Maya rather than Cancun.

A perfect Christmas in the sun.

Fly Vegan

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It’s certainly much easier to be vegan now than it ever has been before but travelling can still sometimes be tricky.

Not only the cuisines in the different countries you travel to but also when you’re in flight.

I recently went to Mexico and flew with United and although the in flight main meal vegetarian option was luckily vegan, they didn’t actually offer specifically vegan meals and the snack options later in the flight were not vegan so had I not been prepared and stocked up on expensive airport snacks after going through security, I’d have been one hangry traveller! 

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Well now The Vegan Society and The Humane Society have joined forces and launched a brilliant website called Fly Ve where you can go and rate your in flight vegan meals and read other peoples reviews.

Basically like trip advisor but for plant based meals. 

With such a recent rise in people switching to vegan diets, it’s really important that they’re catered for and it’s not only vegans who enjoy vegan food, I know that through my experience, since becoming vegan, many of my non vegan friends have gone for vegan options when we’ve been out together and when you’re on a long flight and you’re not actively burning calories, vegan or not, it makes sense to go for a healthy vegan option.

At the time of writing this post, the stats show that Turkish Airlines and Air New Zealand provide the best food for vegan travellers and the more people that contribute to the site, the more accurate the stats will be although in flight meals might not be the only factor to consider when booking flights, it’s definitely one to consider when deciding which airlines to fly with.

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www.flyvegan.org