travel

Two weeks in Asia. Stop 2: Kuala Lumpur

The second city on our trip was the hot and steamy Kuala Lumpur. Our 3 nights here have completely flown by and I am currently writing this from the plane on the way to Bangkok!

We landed at lunchtime on Monday and got the KL Espres train directly to KL Sentral (a speedy 30 minutes and free wifi on board) and then had planned to change to the green line to get to our hotel. Well, it turns out that the KL subway system has 2 different green lines and we got on the wrong one. Eventually, after a couple tantrums, waiting yonks for a monorail and walking a lot from station to station, we got to our hotel! And the moment we got to our room ready to drop our bags and head out to explore, a huge thunderstorm started. Of course it did.

An hour or so later when the thunderstorm had subsided a little, we headed out on a walk to see KLCC park and the Petronas Twin Towers. An advance warning for potential visitors to KL – a zebra crossing here may look exactly the same as one back at home, but in Kuala Lumpur the cars will not stop for you and you will probably die. Also, motorcyclists don’t care about red lights/pedestrian pavements/loss of life so have your wits about you at all times.

When we arrived at KLCC Park with all limbs amazingly intact, the Petronas Towers looked STUNNING. So many gorgeous photo ops in the park and lots of places to sit in the sun and take in the view.

The mall underneath the towers is enormous and has everything from supermarkets to designer stores to Marks and Spencer’s and it even houses a cheeky Nando’s. We ignored the peri-peri chicken and instead headed to the food court to see if we could try something a little more authentic. As with nearly everywhere in Asia, finding authentic food that’s also gluten free was difficult. I checked out all the stalls before deciding that my safest bet was a Rendang beef curry with plain rice. It was yummy! Ewan also tried a canned Chrysanthemum Tea which was interesting (read: rank).

The Towers (and actually the whole city) are even more stunning at night when they are lit up against the night sky, and the fountains in the park light up and play music after dark. We also walked home through a little rainbow forest which was dreamy.

The morning after we headed to Batu Caves via bus & train. I had read that you have to have your shoulders and knees covered to go in as it’s a place of worship, so I put on my most sexless and unflattering outfit (photo of this below – you’re welcome) and off we went. Sadly, my outfit was apparently not covered enough and I was made to pay to rent a sarong. Ewan, the slut, had his knees completely visible but was allowed in sans sarong. Go figure.

The first thing you’ll see at Batu Caves is the enormous gold statue at the bottom of the steps. The second thing you’ll see are stray dogs and monkeys. For monkey fans, you will probably be in your element. If you’re a person who is afraid of most things (like me), you will probably not be. However, I can honestly say that those 272 steps in 36 degree heat were EASY because I was running on nothing but fear and adrenaline. I had one break in which I forced Ewan to take my backpack in case it attracted the monkeys as they are known to steal things off tourists and can bite if they have to fight for it. Basically what I’m saying is I was quite happy for Ewan to be attacked as long as I saved myself. Picture below of a monkey with a stolen drink.

Once you’re up the steps, the caves themselves are actually pretty underwhelming. They are currently going through extensive rebuilding inside the caves though so maybe that’s why! On the way back down, I put my hand in a huge, bright green pile of monkey poo. Yay.

Once back in KL Centre, we got a taxi to the historic centre and took some gorgeous photos of the area. We found ourselves conveniently inside Central Market when a thunderstorm started so decided to shop for some of those hideous long trousers that EVERYONE wears when in Asia, in preparation for our temple visits in Thailand. You know the ones I mean; baggy and covered in elephants.

The very tactful owner of one store greeted me with, ‘Yoo-hoo Madame, the larger sizes are over here’. Because I was actually slyly trying to look for the stretchiest ones, I followed him and practised my super impressive bartering technique on him:

‘How much are these ones?’

‘For you… 35 RPM’

‘Great.’ *hands over money*

We headed to the crazy-busy, food-filled street Jalan Alor that evening for dinner and finally got to try Chilli Crab. It was good but an absolute pain in the ass to eat!

Our last day in KL was a bit of a washout. There was SO much rain all day long. We wanted to go up KL Tower but the Sky Deck was closed due to the weather, so we plumped for the observation deck instead and thankfully could still see most of the city from it!

It cleared up a tiny bit and we were able to get out for a wander around Little India, before finding the most delicious place inside Sentral Mall for lunch. I had the most incredible Nasi Lemak (a rice dish cooked in coconut milk and pandan leaf) and tried a naturally gluten free dessert called Lapis. They do them in all different colours and flavours!

That evening we headed to see the stunning Petronas Towers again and stopped for dinner in Malaysian chain restaurant Madame Quan’s. There weren’t a huge amount of gluten free options so I had my second Nasi Lemak of the day! I wanted to have an alcoholic drink with dinner but Asian restaurants seem to offer beer but not much else, which is obviously no good for me! However, we found a bar that sold wine by the glass later that evening and I now understand why wine isn’t so big in Asia… we had an absolutely terrible glass of Shiraz while watching the fountains and it was enough to put me off wine for at least a week!

We got a taxi back to the airport for our flight to Bangkok because we couldn’t stand the thought of getting on KL’s public transit system again, and ordered our taxi from the hotel front desk. As our taxi arrived, the receptionist shouted out to us, ‘by the way, your taxi driver is deaf.’ To start with we were a bit worried how safe this was in insane traffic, but he turned out to be THE CUTEST MAN IN THE WORLD/safest taxi driver in Asia and left us with a lovely memory of Kuala Lumpur.

Side note for gluten free peeps: KL airport has NOTHING that you can eat once you go through security so eat before if you can. I ended up having a bag of Starbucks sour cream and onion crisps for breakfast.

travel

Two weeks in Asia – Stop 1: Singapore

I bang about how much I love Singapore on such a frequent occasion that Ewan, my boyfriend, decided he wanted to visit for his 30th birthday trip. We also decided to tag Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok on to the holiday to make it extra special/to tick off as many countries visited as possible. (I have recently downloaded an app called Hello World and am a bit obsessed with it).

The week leading up to our flight to Singapore saw ‘the beast from the east’ hit the UK, cause havoc and subsequently SO many flights were cancelled. Honestly, until our flight actually lifted off the ground, I wasn’t sure if we were going to get to go!

Thankfully though, all worked out fine and the flight itself was a dream.. or as much of a dream as a 13 hour economy flight can be. Hot towels, freshly made Singapore Sling Cocktails, fantastic gluten free food and the hilarious movie Happy Death Day made the time fly by.

We landed at Singapore Changi airport at 7pm, took the super cheap MRT into town and after a scenic walk along Boat Quay, checked in to our hotel and went to bed.

The morning after, I felt fresh and ready to go out exploring. Ewan, however, had barely slept due to jet lag and was a grumpy bastard. Regardless, he still got up, dressed and we ventured out to find breakfast. Let me start by saying that finding gluten free breakfast in Singapore is an ABSOLUTE BALL-ACHE because Singaporeans either like to eat toast with random toppings (one place was selling toast with a butter and sugar mixture spread on top, advertised as ‘butter with a crunch’) or soy sauce covered noodle dishes. I ended up having a fried egg, a ‘fish ball’ and a super sweet iced coffee. Weird… but I actually kind of enjoyed it.

We headed to check out the Merlion and get some gorgeous views of Marina Bay Sands before walking around the harbour to explore Gardens by the Bay. These Gardens are like none other; lush greenery mixed with enormous sculptures of all different shapes and colours, huge futuristic ‘trees’ and a sky-walk that connects them all together. To top it all off, Cloud Gate in the Gardens is home to the worlds largest indoor waterfall. Gorge.

We took a break from the heat and stopped off at a cafe inside the gardens for a drink. I was seduced by a photo of a bright pink drink on the menu and ordered it without a second thought. This was a mistake. It turns out I had ordered a concoction of whole milk, sugar and rose flavoured syrup. Grim grim grim. Looks nice in the picture though, doesn’t it?

Next stop was Chinatown and we had fun walking around all the stalls, checking out the gorgeous lantern lined streets and year of the dog decorations. It was a roasting 34 degrees so we headed into Chinatown Complex Food Centre for some lunch and air conditioning. There are an insane number of stalls in there selling all manner of delicious looking things, but eventually I went for the Carrot Cake as I knew it was gluten free. Carrot cake isn’t what you think… it’s a dish made out of rice flour and white radish mixed with eggs and garlic. They sell it in black or white varieties, but if you’re gluten free make sure to get the white version as the black one has soy sauce in it! It was really yummy and weirdly tasted like a seafood omelette even though it’s just veggies!

We headed back to the hotel for a swim, sunbathe and nap. The hotel pool was beautiful and it was crazy hot which was a nice change from the freezing temps back home!

Post-nap, with rumbling tummies, we wandered out to take in some more stunning views of Marina Bay and grab some dinner at my favourite Hawker Market in Singapore – Gluttons Bay. We feasted on a huge platter of chicken, mutton and beef satay and washed it down with tiger beer (Ewan) and iced tea (me). We wanted to get a chilli crab too but we were stuffed, so we have vowed to come back next week when we’re in Singapore again.

We watched the light show (every night at 8 and 9pm) at the Marina Bay Sands before going to Clarke Quay for a drink. Ewan had a sampler of beers, all of which he sadly described as average, and I of course went for a Singapore Sling.

We’re now in Kuala Lumpur for 3 nights before heading to Bangkok, then back to Singapore! Plus, just to add this in because I am a smug cow, and also to excuse the state of my hair/outfit/general appearance in all the photos, I am doing this entire 12 day trip with nothing but a 7kg hand luggage bag. So smug.

Restaurants · travel

Day 59 of USA Road Trip – Portland 

If any of you have seen the TV show ‘Portlandia’, you’ll probably be aware that Portland is a weird (and wonderful) city. If you haven’t, imagine a place that is full to the brim of independent, original businesses and very quirky people. 


We didn’t arrive in Portland until late in the evening on our first day so decided not to head into town. Instead, we went for dinner at the Indian restaurant adjoining our hotel called Namaste. When I walked in and realized that it was a buffet, I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to eat. It turns out that every item is clearly labeled with all its ingredients and gluten/dairy free options are marked. Everything was yummy and the price was ridiculously cheap, $14 for all you can eat! 

The following morning we got the shuttle into town for a full day of exploring in Portland. The first place we visited was the Chinese Garden in Old Town. The entrance fee is just shy of $10 per person and you get so much for your money. If you go at 10am on Thursdays, you get a free Tai Chi class taught in the main pavilion! We arrived just after they started so we didn’t join in but very much enjoyed watching them. The gardens themselves are stunning and quite big, with lots of cool areas to explore. Each building has a different attraction in it and all of them are free, from calligraphy lessons to fortune telling.


After such a relaxing time in the Chinese Gardens, it was time to get our morning caffeine fix. We went to the famous Voodoo Donuts and while I had high hopes that they might have gluten free options, I was sadly disappointed. However, it is a very cool place to see and their coffee is pretty good. For the non-gluten free visitors, they do some very… different… donut varieties, including one called ‘the cock and ball’. I’ll let you guys guess the shape of that one. 


We spent the next couple of hours wandering around downtown and checking out the shops before stopping for a quick lunch in Freshii. It was weird to be back in a Freshii as that was the place I went to for lunch at least a couple times a week when I worked in Toronto! For anyone who’s never been, they do quite a few gluten free options including my favourite, the Bamboo Bowl. It’s best to check out their nutrition menu online before you go though as I’ve never found the staff to be that knowledgeable about gluten. 


There’s a tourist information right across from Freshii so we popped in and asked this adorable old lady how we should spend the rest of our day. To say she was helpful is an understatement. She gave us a full breakdown of the best things to check out in the city and we had the best time thanks to her advice! 

The first spot on her list of suggestions was the Portlandia Building which has a statue of a woman on the front that’s comparable in size to the Statue of Liberty. It’s actually ridiculously easy to miss because she’s bent down to catch a salmon (naturally) so she looks a lot smaller than I expected. Still, very cool to see! 


We then walked all along the gorgeous waterfront back to Old Town and stopped for an alcoholic refreshment in a beer garden called Floyd’s. Another reason to love Portland – their alcohol is very cheap! 

Portland is home to the largest independent book store in the USA and this place is seriously MASSIVE. I’m talking a store the size of an entire block and 4 stories tall, completely chock full of books. If you’re a book fan like I am, you can get lost in Powell’s Books for hours! 


Right round the corner from Powell’s is the very cool Fat Head Brewery. Now, I am in no way a beer fan but this place really is amazing! They offer a few different gluten free beers along with lots of wines, ciders and cocktails. I tried a Mango cider which I’ll admit I didn’t love but the real winner was their food menu. They can basically make anything you want gluten free and during happy hour all their pizzas are only $8, with zero extra charge to make it gluten free! We couldn’t resist this insane offer so had a cheeky pizza to share with our drinks. Ewan had a beer flight (not gluten free) and of course tried their beer called ‘the Lou’. 


Our last stop of the day was Tilikum Bridge, the newest bridge in the city that only opened in 2015. There’s not as much around it as I had expected but it offers a nice vantage point to see the city. 


We weren’t massively hungry after our pizza but didn’t want to head back to the hotel before having some dinner (I don’t think anyone can face an all you can eat Indian buffet twice in a row) so we popped into Flying Elephant Deli for a bite to eat. Funny story about the Flying Elephant, when I saw the name of this place on the map earlier in the day, I made Ewan walk all the way there thinking it would be a statue of an elephant with wings. It was a bloody Cafe! Flying Elephant Deli does have lots of gluten free options but it really is a cross contamination nightmare. I wouldn’t touch any of the gluten free cakes or breads with a barge pole because they are stored on the same plates as their gluten containing counterparts, but I just about trusted the soups and thankfully didn’t have any issues after eating it. I went for the Tomato Orange and it was yum! 


Overall, I absolutely loved Portland and think it’s a really cool city to spend a day or two. My next blog post will be all about the beautiful city of Seattle! 

Restaurants · travel

Days 56-58 of USA Road Trip – North California and Oregon 

These three days felt like proper ‘road trip’ days. We drove basically all day, stopping off at different cool locations along the route and had a quick sleep at a random motel before getting on the road again. 

Our first day of driving was from Napa Valley to Eureka. We stopped for lunch at Jack in the Box and I wasn’t convinced that I’d be able to eat anything, but thanks to the nutrition menu on the wall I worked out that I was safe eating a grilled chicken salad. I’m the first to admit that I am not a huge salad fan, but this was actually pretty good! Would definitely have it again. 


Our first sightseeing stop of the day was the Drive Thru Tree. It’s only $5 per car to enter the park and on a quiet day like the one we went on, you can drive through it as many times as you like! If the name didn’t explain enough, it’s just a huge tree that has a small, car shaped gap cut into the bottom of it so you can walk or drive through. We are in a tiny Ford Fiesta and managed to hit our wing mirror (no damage, thank God) so good luck if you’re in a big car! 

 

We drove along Avenue of the Giants, a vast, tree-lined area with gorgeous views, attractions and hiking trails. We saw Chimney Tree (a tree with a hole all the way through) and went on a short hiking trail in Humboldt Redwood National Forest where Ewan bravely crossed a river by walking along a fallen tree. I took the wimps option and went across the manmade bridge.  


Our motel was in a town called Eureka which I stupidly expected to be buzzing because it looked geographically large on google maps. No offence to any Eureka residents (okay, maybe a little bit of offence because YOU MUST MOVE) but the entire town looks like one enormous and slightly dodgy car park. We had a quick dinner at a cute Mexican joint called Rita’s where they were able to make me gluten free vegetable fajitas and then headed back to the hotel room before it got dark out. 


The next day of driving was from Eureka to Coos Bay, Oregon. We made friends with some Germans at breakfast who told us a few good trails to do at Redwood National and State Park, our first location of the day. We did the Fern Canyon trail which was honestly incredible, I felt like I was walking around in Jurassic Park! The Canyon walls were covered all the way up in bright green ferns and small waterfalls drizzled into the water at the bottom of the Canyon, making the atmosphere so relaxing. I had to walk through streams and climb over trees to do the trail, which made me feel very accomplished as I am generally a huge wimp. 


Someone who was less happy about the streams was Sid, our trusty Ford Fiesta (named after Sid the Sloth in the Ice Age films because he goes very slowly when we drive uphill). We had to drive him through a rather deep stream to get to the trailhead and if you’ve ever tried to drive a rental car through deep water you will know how traumatizing this was. Thankfully, we all came out unscathed.

For lunch we went to Palm Cafe which is apparently ‘World Famous’ but I’ve learnt during the trip that this term is used loosely for just about anything. To be honest if you HAVE heard of Palm Cafe in Orick, California, I’ll give you a tenner. The service was really good though and they made me a very yummy ham and cheese omelette, so I’m not complaining. 

Back in Redwood National Park, we did a super short hike to ‘Big Tree’ which is crazy tall and 1500 years old! 


Our favourite sight of the day was Klamath River Outlook. It was such a beautiful viewpoint of the ocean and we sat in the sun watching the whales and sea lions swim around below. Dreamy. 


We had a slightly alternative accommodation booked for the evening at Oceanside RV Park. We were staying in an airstream! It had 2 single beds, a cute sofa, a tin shower and working loo. It was adorable and only a 1 minute walk from a private beach. We borrowed a board game from the front desk and had a really lovely evening in our trailer. 


When it was time for dinner, we drove a couple minutes into Charleston and ate at Millers on the Cove Sports Bar. They have great gluten free options including clam chowder which is hardly ever gluten free so I had to order it and it was really good! I also had the crab tacos and a glass of hot apple cider because it’s now officially autumn and I am a basic bitch. 


After a delightful sleep in our little tin house, we spent the day driving from Coos Bay to Portland. We decided on Pancake Mill in Coos Bay for breakfast. They do loads of gluten free options including pancakes of all sizes, waffles and muffins. I had a vegetable scramble with a side of gluten free dollar pancakes and took a raspberry muffin to go. They do three different kinds of maple syrup too and they are all delicious. One of my favourite breakfasts of the trip. 


Our first attraction of the day was meant to be Sealion Caves but when we got there they explained that there were actually no sea lions there that day as they were all out hunting. They offered us $2 off their usual admission price so we could see the empty cave…. no thanks…. and instead we drove on to Thors Well. Thors Well is essentially a collapsed sea cave that looks like a bottomless sinkhole at high tide. We saw it at mid/low tide, but it was still stunning. 


We drove on to Seal Rock for a walk along the beach (no seals, maybe they were hunting too?) then stopped at McDonalds for lunch. I love McDonalds soooo much but since I found out I have celiac disease, I’ve only been able to eat the fries. I’d heard that you can ask them to make a burger without the bun but have always felt too silly to make that request. However, because it was really quiet in there and the lady behind the counter seemed nice, I went ahead and asked. What a game changer! They server their burger in a lettuce wrap and they taste just like a normal burger! Mega happy. 


Our last stop of the day was the majestic Cannon Beach. It’s honestly one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been and I could have wandered along the beach for hours upon hours. If you ever seen The Goonies, it’s the beach from that movie! We stayed until the sun started to set behind the huge rocks in the sea and then drove on to our hotel in Portland. 


We now have under a week until we land back in UK! Where have the last 2 months gone?! 

Restaurants · travel

Days 54 & 55 of USA Road Trip – Lake Tahoe & Napa Valley

Before leaving San Francisco, we checked what the weather would be like in Lake Tahoe so I knew what to wear for the day. What I saw surprised me to say the least; it was going to reach a high of 10 degrees! All I’ve been wearing for the past 2 months is denim shorts and strappy dresses, so I was in a bit of a panic. We dug deep into Big Red and pulled out a pair of Lululemon leggings that I’d placed there in a well intentioned but laughable attempt to lure me into working out during the trip. Needless to say, they hadn’t been touched since I packed them. I stole a fleecy jumper of Ewan’s to wear with them and was ready to go!  

We didn’t check in to our hotel in South Lake Tahoe until 2.30pm as it was quite a long drive. After dropping Big Red off in the room and brushing up on our knowledge of what to do if a bear attacks, we headed up to the Van Sickle trail. The hike was short but very steep, which thankfully meant that it didn’t take too long to get to a gorgeous look-out. We sat on the rocks and watched the bright blue lake below us for a while. It was beautiful! The chairlift runs all year for $50 per person if you don’t fancy hiking.


On the way back down, we stopped at Heavenly Village to nosy around the cute shops and restaurants. I can imagine that this area is stunning during winter and an amazing place to ski, but as soon as we walked down to the beach and had a little chill out on the sand, I realized that it would be just as gorgeous in summer. The water in the lake was crazy clear and calm. 


We had a very unexciting dinner in Applebees because the BBQ restaurant we’d planned to go to was closed for the season. I had the Bourbon Chicken & Shrimp and I don’t mean to sound like a greedy guts but the portion was so small and therefore depressing! 

The following day we headed to Napa Valley, which was wonderful, boozy and sunny. I’ve done quite a lot of wineries over the past 2 years while living in Canada and the thing that surprised me in Napa was how expensive tastings are. In Canada, I’ve generally only paid $5-10 for tastings at a winery, and that usually gets deducted if you buy a bottle. In Napa, you’re looking at around $30-50 per winery visit! We had made tour reservations at the stunning Domaine Carneros winery in Napa, about a 15 minute Lyft ride from downtown. The building is very pretty and they specialize in sparkling wine. We only got 4 small tastings during the $50 tour but it was very informative and interesting. Did you know that to get the yeast residue (gross) out of every bottle of prosecco/champagne, wineries have to turn each bottle upside down, freeze the neck of it and pull out the ice plug that forms? 


Downtown Napa has some smaller, cheaper wineries and tasting rooms, but they are obviously not set in beautiful vineyards like the out of town ones. We had a few wine flights at different locations in the city and my absolute favourite was JaM Winery. They have a Chardonnay called ‘Butter’ that genuinely smells like melted butter and I was very enamoured with! We also got to try the difference between their Napa region wines and their wines made in other areas of California and it’s safe to say that the Napa ones were SO much better. 


For dinner we went to Mint Mango Thai in Napa downtown. They are great with gluten free requirements and very knowledgeable. I had a yellow chicken curry and it was yummy. 


We stayed at Wine Valley Lodge in Napa which is famous because Marilyn Monroe and Elvis have both stayed there at some point. It was a cute place but all I can say is that they must have stayed there at the VERY beginning of their careers because it wasn’t exactly lavish….. it was perfect for us though and I slept like a log after all that wine! 


Final wine rating: Loved Napa but I think Niagara on the Lake in Ontario is still my favourite place to go wine tasting! 

Restaurants · travel

Days 51-53 of USA Road Trip – San Francisco

 San Francisco has always been on my to-go list and I am so happy that I can now say I’ve been! Ewan’s parents were travelling around California at the same time as us, so we aligned schedules and met them at the Cliff House on Wednesday for lunch. You are supposed to be able to get good views of the Golden Gate Bridge from the area, but the weather was seriously foggy so there was absolutely zero visibility. We were staying in Sausalito (at a gorgeous hotel thanks to Ewan’s parents) which meant that we had to drive across the Golden Gate Bridge to get there. This is all we could see from it! 


Because of the foggy weather, we decided to stay over in Sausalito for the afternoon instead of driving back into San Francisco. The hotel offered complimentary bikes so we had fun cycling around the area. 


For dinner, we decided to check out the restaurant attached to the hotel, Frantoio. They offer gluten free pasta and I had the most incredible rabbit ragu dish, I haven’t had pasta as good as that since Frings in Toronto. 


The hotel had an outdoor fire pit so we spent the rest of the evening sitting and enjoying the warmth of the flames while making complimentary s’mores – or marshmallows sandwiched between chocolate for me! Yum. 


The next morning, we enjoyed our hotel hot breakfast (which is seriously a luxury for us now after all of our budget motels) and drove into the city. I hadn’t expected this to be the case, but San Fran is a very drivable place. The traffic was minimal and there are a multitude of free parking spaces all over the city. We were able to see Lombard Street, Ghirardelli Square, Fishermans Wharf and the beautiful sea lions at Pier 39 all while parking for free nearby! 


When our bellies started to rumble, we drove to the Ferry Terminal as Ewan had heard how pretty the area was. He was right, it was such a gem! There’s a big water feature in the square that you can walk through, and lots of nice little cafes and boutique shops inside the Ferry Terminal itself. 


While exploring all the stalls, I found a 100% gluten free artisan bakery called Mariposa that sold a little of everything. All their offerings looked insane: cherry danishes, bagels, cinnamon buns, avocado on toast… I could go on and on. Eventually I decided on a cheese and ham pocket and it was SO good. It did not have the dryness of normal gluten free pastry at all! 


Chinatown and Union Square are within easy walking distance from the Ferry Terminal, so we checked both of those areas out next. I’ve been to many Chinatowns and I think San Fran’s may be my favourite! Union Square was a cool, buzzing place for shopping and people watching. We took a streetcar from Union Square back to the Ferry Terminal before heading on to the Palace of Fine Arts Theatre. 


The Palace doesn’t look like much from the road, but this is an absolutely gorgeous place to visit if you’re in the San Francisco area. There are intricate, roman-esque structures and sculptures to see and it’s all free to visit. It’s especially beautiful on a sunny day! Inside the main building are a few exhibits and lots of games to play like table tennis and jenga. We played the bean bag toss like in San Diego and I won, again. I really should start a team when I’m back in the UK. Any takers? No? 


On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at a vantage point for the Golden Gate Bridge and took lots of great pictures. Ewan’s Mum is a yogi and her yoga group take pictures of themselves doing poses when they go on vacation. I especially enjoyed watching Ewan squirm in embarrassment as his mother did a bridge pose (basically a crab to non-yogis like me) on the ledge with the view of the Golden Gate Bridge in the background. Brilliant. 


Dinner was at my favourite place, The Cheesecake Factory. I went for my old faithful – chicken and roasted garlic gluten free pasta and a slice of Godiva chocolate cheesecake for pudding. It was as delicious as ever but I definitely overate and felt ill and full for the next two days. Note to self: must one day learn to eat in moderation. 

We spent our final day in San Francisco exploring Golden Gate Park, after a brief pit stop at Alamo Square to see the Painted (or really not that painted to be honest) Ladies. 


Golden Gate Park is another place that’s easy to drive to and free to park in, but most of the attractions inside the park come with a fee. For $9 each, we went inside the very pretty but tiny Japanese Tea Gardens for a cup of green tea. Inside the Tea Gardens is a very steep bridge that you just can’t climb over without taking a photo! We had planned to rent bikes in the park but the park isn’t actually very bike accessible, as a lot of the paths prohibit cycling. We walked around instead and moved the car if we needed to go a long distance – much easier! 


We headed back over Golden Gate Bridge for the rest of the afternoon and visited the beautiful Muir Woods. I think it’s fair to say that I’ve been spoiled recently by stunning national parks, and while Muir Woods didn’t blow me away, it was still a lovely place to walk around and feel at one with nature. 


For any coeliacs visiting Muir Woods, we stopped at Dipsea Cafe on the way there for a bite and they had a few good gluten free options. I had a salad with a few modifications and it was very tasty. They also have lots of gluten free breakfast items. Also not too far away is Pacific Catch, our dinner venue for our last night with Ewan’s parents in California. They have a great menu for coeliacs and loads of options to suit multiple tastes. After our delicious Poke dinner near The Madonna Inn, I was hungry for more Hawaiian, so I went for a selection of Poke dishes served with seaweed salad and tortilla chips. It wasn’t served like I had expected but it was really flavourful and filling!   


I’d definitely love to come back to San Francisco and fit in all the things we didn’t do this trip, like Alcatraz! We had such a great few days though and I was very sad to leave Ewan’s parents on the last day. However it was weird to say ‘See you in a couple weeks’ to them as we left…. AS IF we have less than 2 weeks until we land back in London! Where the hell has the time gone?! 

Restaurants · travel

Days 49 & 50 of USA Road Trip – The Madonna Inn & Monterey 

Back in the days when I actually had a job, I would procrastinate by googling future places to travel (prospective employers, please ignore the previous sentence). During one Google session, I came across a list entitled, ‘the coolest hotels in the world’. One of these hotels just happened to be in California, and it was called The Madonna Inn. As soon as I saw photos of their insanely pink colour scheme, I knew we had to add it as a stop to the road trip. 


We arrived on a sunny Monday afternoon and were given free neon pink travel coffee flasks upon check in. Our room, Floral Fantasy, was everything I had hoped for. A pink velvet sofa, matching curtains, pink carpet, pink bedding and a gorgeous floral light arrangement around the bathroom mirror. We opened up the (also pink) wardrobe door to find two soft, fluffy, baby pink robes waiting for us. Dreamy.


It was a beautiful day so we headed straight for the infinity pool. We sunbathed with a glass of Madonna Inn’s own champagne in hand, which sadly tasted horrendous. The cocktails were much better though! We had a very relaxing afternoon hopping from pool to jacuzzi until night started to fall. 


For dinner, we skipped the crazy expensive steakhouse at the hotel and instead opted for a local Hawaiian eatery called Poke Chef, about a 5 minute drive from The Madonna Inn. We both had incredible poke bowls and yummy fruit juices. The majority of their options are gluten free so I didn’t feel at all restricted. 


Once back at the hotel, we headed into the main building. They have everything you could want; a wine cellar that offers tastings, a shop that sells popcorn and chocolate for movie nights in the hotel room, a boutique clothes store, a cocktail bar, a spa, horse stables and two different restaurants. Every single area is STUNNING. You mustn’t miss the restrooms! If you have a guy with you, and don’t mind getting dirty looks from other patrons, get them to show you the downstairs toilet. I haven’t seen many urinals in my time, but I’m pretty sure these are the most original ones I’ll ever see! 


After skulking strangely around the men’s restroom, we headed to the cocktail bar for a few drinks. I started with their signature drink, The Pink Cloud. It was basically just vodka, cream and pink sugar blended and tasted like a milkshake! It was a heart attack in a glass so I went for red wine next because red wine is practically a salad, right? 


We had planned to cycle their bike trails early the next morning before check out, but upon finding out that they charge $25 a bike, we slept in instead. Another fun thing about The Madonna Inn is that their in-room toilets are what I would call ‘robo-toilets’ because they have a very fancy remote control panel on them and can do all sorts of random, completely unnecessary things, like providing the equivalent of a hand dryer for your arse. 


Once checked out, we got on our way to Monterey. I’ll admit I didn’t know much about Monterey except that it was the filming location for the recent (and absolutely excellent) TV show, Big Little Lies. It turns out that Monterey is one of the most amazing place that we’ve seen in California so far! It’s an absolute must-visit in my opinion. We saw Bixby Bridge, explored Big Sur, drove the 17 mile scenic route and took in so many stunning views. We need to come back because there’s loads we didn’t have time to see, and I already can’t wait to visit again! 


Monterey has a Fisherman’s Wharf, and while it isn’t a patch on San Fran’s area of the same name, it’s a very cute place to have dinner. Basically every restaurant is seafood which suited me very nicely! We checked out all the menu’s and eventually decided on Albonetti because it was one of the only places that labeled their gluten free options. We got seated with a view of the water and were able to watch sea lions swimming around as we ate our dinner. I went for the Monterey Calamari dish and while a little heavy on the garlic, it was still very good.  


Add Monterey to your travel list, its beautiful! 

Restaurants · travel

Days 46-48 of USA Road Trip – LA & Santa Barbara 

Okay, so LA is both amazing and a bloody nightmare rolled into one. We definitely want to come back, as we only really scratched the surface of what this city has to offer, but ONLY when they finish the metro extension that they are currently working on. I feel like we spent most of our visit in LA in traffic and I honestly feel for anyone who lives there because it must be such a pain in the ass to get anywhere! 

For starters, our drive there was supposed to take a couple of hours and we were going to arrive around 3pm and head out to explore. Cue horrendous traffic and we finally pull up to the hotel in Hollywood around 6pm, exhausted and hungry. We dumped our bags and popped into a random Thai cafe next to our hotel for a quick bite to eat before getting the metro to see the Walk of Fame and the Chinese Theatre. It was busy, buzzy and fun and it was cool to see the celebrity handprints on the floor. Those 2 sightseeing spots are easily accessible via metro, but that’s kind of where the metros usefulness for tourists (and probably locals too which is why everyone has to drive everywhere) goes dry. 


We wanted to see the LACMA at night as they have an art installation outside called ‘Urban Light’, which is essentially just lots of ornate street lights grouped together. To get anywhere near the LACMA, we had to take a 45 minute bus. We felt a little uneasy walking from the bus stop to the LACMA too, because nobody seems to walk in this city so the streets are dark, dingy and empty. However, we got there and it was very pretty! We took some nice pics before getting on another 45 minute bus back to the nearest metro station and heading to the hotel for a well needed sleep. 


The following morning, a Saturday, we wanted to spend the day at Venice Beach. We considered driving but were told by the hotel staff that this was a very bad idea due to traffic/parking. Instead, we spent an hour and a half on 2 different buses to get there. If you’re tired of hearing about buses in this blog post, imagine how it felt to bloody be sitting on one all this time! Thankfully, Venice Beach was very nice and gorgeously sunny. We checked out the original Muscle Beach and walked along the front with an ice cream. 


You can easily walk all the way along the beach from Venice to Santa Monica, which is what we decided to do. It’s a lovely walk and there’s lots of cafes dotted around for drink stops. We stopped in Perry’s Cafe for lunch. They don’t advertise their gluten free options but they offer gluten free bread and can make almost all of their meals gluten free upon request. I went for a California Beach Bowl because I felt it was very fitting for our current location. It was yummy!! Californians love avocado and I’m totally on board with that obsession. 


We eventually came to Santa Monica pier, which has everything from a mini theme park to an aquarium! The view from the pier was beautiful and we came across this group of pigeons on a day out. 


Once back in downtown LA (after an hour long metro ride, of course), we got the DASH bus to Griffith Observatory. Note: do not drive or uber to the observatory. The queue to get in was crazy, and the DASH bus only costs 50 cents and bypasses all the traffic! The observatory is an amazing place to visit, there’s stunning views everywhere and lots of interesting stuff going on inside the building too. There’s tones of hiking trails to choose from and we went for a short one that took us to a viewpoint of the Hollywood Sign. LOVED it. One of the highlights of the whole road trip for me. 



Because we might have actually burned some calories during the hike, we obviously had to go for an enormous dinner. We chose Umami Burger for the location of this feast. Umami Burger is a very cool burger chain that caters to basically everyone, specializing in the ‘impossible burger’, a 100% vegan patty that apparently tastes just like real meat. I didn’t go for the vegan option (shocker) and instead opted for the Cali Burger, lettuce wrapped, with a side of roasted Brussels sprouts. YUM. 


We spent the rest of evening chilling in the hotel at my request, I couldn’t stand the thought of spending any more time that day sitting on public transport. That sounds super boring in hindsight but I was so over it! I’ll have to make up for it next time I’m in LA! 

The next morning, we got on the road to the Getty Villa on the outskirts of Malibu. The Getty Villa was the brainchild of Paul Getty, a very rich business man who wanted somewhere to showcase his art collection. The whole place is designed to be a replica of a villa in Italy that was buried by lava when Mount Vesuvius erupted and it is indeed stunning, inside and out. It’s free to visit ($15 to park though) but you won’t get in without a reservation. You can make reservations online up to 2 months in advance of your desired date. 


We drove along the beautiful Californian coast until we got to our Santa Barbara hotel. It was a little cloudy but still warm, so we walked all the way along the beach and Ewan skimmed lots of stones (7 was his best ‘skim’ of the day). During this walk, we kept seeing little, clear bodied things jumping in the sand. Intrigued but not worried, we continued to walk barefoot along the beach until we got to the town. 


Downtown Santa Barbara is actually very good for shopping and is full of buzzy cocktail bars and coffee shops. We had coffee on a patio at one place then walked along for some wine on a balcony overlooking State Street at another. Gorge. 

It was soon time for dinner, so we headed to PizzaRev. Brathaus also deserves a special gluten free mention as they do gluten free schnitzel and hotdogs, but we ultimately went for pizza because pizza > everything. I was treated so well as a coeliac in PizzaRev that I felt like Queen Gluten Free of Santa Barbara. He cleaned the whole pizza oven even though my pizza was going to be placed on a brand new pizza pan to cook, put on fresh gloves, explained everything to me during the process and got another staff member to open the fridge door for him so that he didn’t have to touch it, thus avoiding any kind of cross contamination. You also get free unlimited toppings on their pizzas which you just can’t go wrong with. If you want all the cheeses they do (which I obviously did), you can have all the cheeses! Gluten free heaven exists, guys. 


Remember I was talking about those hopping creatures in the sand? Well, when we got back to the hotel I noticed lots of tiny bites on my feet. I googled the little buggers it turns out that they are SAND FLEAS. Is nowhere safe?! Thankfully, sand fleas aren’t actually fleas, they are very small crustaceans so I’m not carrying them around with me or anything. Still – GROSS. Hope I haven’t ruined beaches for you forever. Ps. Check out Ewan’s shoe tan below! 

Restaurants · travel

Day 43-45 of USA Road Trip – San Diego 

If you’ve never been to San Diego before, GO TO SAN DIEGO. This was my third time there and it just gets better every time. Ewan and I (mainly I) fantasized about buying a holiday home here… which is another level of laughable seeing as we are currently both technically homeless and very much unemployed. However, if you’re reading this and want to get us a nice Christmas gift, we will take a place near Mission Beach. Thanks in advance. 

Back to reality, once we’d checked in to our hotel we walked to the nearby Trolley Station to buy a 3 day pass for $12. San Diego has a very accessible trolley/bus system that covers the whole city, so it’s a very cost effective and simple way to get around. We headed first to Old Town for a wander amongst the cute, historically decorated shops and museums, most of which are free to visit. There’s a really cool candle shop where you can dip and decorate your own candle for as little as $2, which I have done before and loved, and a donkey farm! 


We hopped back on the Trolley to Sante Fe Depot and walked along the Harbour, coming across a public pier. We walked to the end of it and there were seats set out for people to sit and plane watch on – Ewan’s dream! They also had free wifi – my dream!


Evening started to close in and it got a little chilly, so I dragged Ewan, screaming and crying, towards our next destination. We were headed to Seaport Village for dinner, but on the way we saw lots of gorgeous memorials scattered along the Harbourfront. My two favourites were Homecoming and the Bob Hope Memorial. 


Seaport Village has lots of gluten free restaurant options, including a couple fancy places along the water and a Cheesecake Factory. We opted for Mexican at Puesto and we were not disappointed. It happened to be Taco Tuesday, which meant that all their tacos were half price at only $2.50 each! Bargain. They mark their gluten free options on the menu and if you tell your server about your allergies, they will do everything they can to prevent cross contamination. I went for 3 tacos and a wine flight to wash it down. YUM. 


The waitress asked if we would like to see the dessert menu and I obliged, but only so I could take a look at it ‘for the blog’. This was a rookie mistake; I saw the words Dark Chocolate Torte and couldn’t resist. 


After dinner we headed up to the Top of the Hyatt for a drink and to take in the view before getting the Trolley back to the hotel. Side note: I’d put zero effort into my appearance on this day and before we walked into the restaurant, I’d asked Ewan if I looked decent enough as it was quite a nice place. He did the standard man response of ‘you look lovely darling’ without really looking at me. The second we had finished dinner and were walking out the restaurant, he turned to me, laughed, and said, “your hair looks like Mick Hucknall’s”. Great. 


The next morning, we got the bus to Balboa park. There’s so much to do in Balboa park depending on what interests you – beautiful gardens, art galleries, museums and a big outdoor theatre. We did a bit of it all! The area around the botanical gardens is definitely worth a visit. 


Next, we headed to Coronado Island for lunch and an afternoon at the beach. We ate in Claytons Diner, an adorable little cafe with red booths and duke boxes – very ‘Grease’! They know their stuff about gluten allergies, and although they do make their own gluten free cakes, they are made in the same area as normal cakes so they aren’t suitable for ceoliacs. 

With full bellies, we walked down to the Coronado Hotel and chilled out on the beach for a bit. Ewan isn’t a lover of just sitting on the beach doing nothing, so thankfully we found some games to play to keep him entertained! (Unnecessary info but I would like to get it in writing – I beat him at both games). 


Once we were done with the beach, we sat in the sun on the Coronado Hotel outdoor deck, drinking very overpriced but delicious Mai Tai’s.


We spent the evening in the Gaslamp Quarter, shopping in the Westfield Mall and having an early dinner in Thai Mint. They were great with my gluten free requirements and I had a delicious Green Thai Curry, but Ewan’s Massaman was waaaay better and I had serious food envy! 


We had planned a beach day for our last full day in San Diego but it was cloudy until about 11am, which was actually great because we had a lazy morning and a lie in for the first time in what feels like forever! When the sun was finally shining, we drove to La Jolla (free 2-3 hour parking if you can find a space) to visit the sea lions and seals! They are very smelly and noisy but fun to watch. People get in the water and swim beside them but we were too wimpy to join in. The whole area is very pretty but gets very busy with tourists, so it’s a good place to explore but not such a great place to sunbathe. 


We stopped for lunch on the gorgeous ocean view deck at George’s. Weirdly, they clearly mark their gluten/dairy/nut free items on their online menu, but not on the menus in the restaurant. Not to worry though, because the staff know their stuff and will let you know what you can eat. I had some insanely good yellowtail tacos, and loved eating them with a view of La Jolla Cove below us. 


The weather was amazing so we jumped back in the car and drove to Mission Beach, my favourite part of San Diego with its soft, sandy beach and buzzing cocktail bars. Parking is free and can be a bit of a nightmare, but we were very lucky and grabbed a 4-hour space right on the beach! We sunbathed for ages, walked along the pier and people watched at a beach bar. I wish we were in San Diego longer as I could have spent a couple weeks like that!  


That evening we had another quick sunbathe, this time by the hotel pool, and went shopping at Fashion Valley Mall. We grabbed dinner at the always-amazing P.F.Chang’s and I greedily popped into the Cheesecake Factory afterwards to take a slice of gluten free coffee cheesecake to go! It was yummy but I saved half of it for breakfast the next day, and insanely it turns out that cheesecake isn’t a great breakfast food (who knew?!) because I felt gross for hours afterwards! In hindsight, it was still worth it. 


We are in LA now which we are both loving and hating. I’ll fill you all in tomorrow! Only 3 weeks until we land back in the UK, arghhhhh! 

Restaurants · travel

Day 42 of USA Road Trip – Palm Springs 

I am so in love with Palm Springs that I have been googling flight prices from London, desperate to book my next trip back. We only stayed one night but it was the most relaxing 24 hours of our trip so far. 

It was a rather long 4 hour drive from Vegas, made longer because California drivers are insane. Everyone drives like they have someone giving birth in their back seat and they are rushing to the hospital! We stopped halfway to swap drivers at Barstow McDonalds, which is set inside an old train station and you eat your meal inside a carriage. Very cool. 


From the moment we arrived in Palm Springs and drove along the gorgeous, palm-tree lined roads, surrounded by mountains, I knew I was going to love it. We checked in to our cute little hotel and went straight to the pool and stayed there until the sun disappeared behind the mountain. It was 105 degrees! 


For dinner, we drove into town and ate at Lulu’s California Kitchen. They have a great gluten free menu with pizzas, pastas, salads and more! I felt like I was in dire need of vegetables (and apparently craving mushrooms) after Vegas, so went for the Wild Mushroom Soup to start and the Portobello Mushroom Tower for my main. I washed all my fungi down with a pomegranate juice cocktail and was in food heaven! 


We wandered around the town for a bit after dinner and there were so many lovely restaurants and bars, including one that served unlimited champagne for $7 between 3-7pm weekdays. Yet another reason why I need to come back! 

We had to do laundry last night before our 3 days in San Diego, so while that was happening we went for a nighttime jacuzzi and swim. It was still 100 degrees, so there were people laying out on the sun loungers even in the dark! So relaxing. 

This morning, breakfast was served poolside. This is the first hotel we’ve stayed at where they actually offer gluten free food and I don’t have to bring my own cereal down to eat! God bless California and their gluten free health fads. After breakfast, we sunbathed and swam poolside until we had to check out. Currently writing this while in the car on the way to our next stop, one of my favourite cities, San Diego!