Rome (Gluten free)

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Rome, Italy – not the first place you look to go to if you’re unable to eat gluten! When my friends decided they were going to Rome and invited me along, I jumped at the chance. Everything was booked and then I realised that eating in Italy might be in a bit of a problem. Having never visited Italy before I was desperate to go and sample the culinary delights that Rome had to offer. All I can say is, thank goodness for the Internet!

I researched gluten free rome and came across some really great websites and blog posts:

http://www.eatingitalyfoodtours.com/blog/gluten-free-rome/

http://selectitaly.com/blog/rome/gluten-free-restaurants-in-rome/

http://www.zestbakery.com/blog/eating-gluten-free-rome-italy

I printed lists of restaurants from the above blogs/websites and prepared my friends for the daily hunt.

Our first day consisted of miles of walking and enabled us to take in sights such as Piazza Navona, the Pantheon and the Vittorio Emmanuele Monument. Our wandering had enabled us to stumble upon a vegan gelato bar, CamBio Vita. The lemon gelato was amazing and I wish I could have taken it home with me! Also trying to avoid lactose and dairy where possible meant that a vegan gelato bar was perfect!  Dinner that night took us to Trastevere and Mama!Eat where the entire menu is available gluten free. There could not have been more choice!!!
image (Photo courtesy of one of my travelling companions)

Day 2 of Rome sightseeing took us to the Colosseum, Roman Forum and the Palatine. We went back to Trastevere for dinner that night via the Basilica de Santa Maria. We ate at Ristorante dai Sandri di Trastevere. They took gluten free so seriously at this restaurant that I was given a different colour knife and fork to everyone else and the waiter was insistent that neither of my travelling companions use their cutlery any where near my food. Here I sampled both gluten free pasta and pizza. The Pizza was without a doubt the best gluten free pizza I have eaten and I don’t think it will be beaten.
image (Photo courtesy of one of my travelling companions)

Day 3 took in the Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel and St Peter’s Basilica. We knew that we had a day of walking ahead of us so decided to stop for lunch at La Soffitta Renovatio. Again, the entire menu was available gluten free. I could not leave Italy without eating gnocchi and this was my opportunity and my god was it good!!! At La Soffitta Renovatio, a little flag is placed into your food if it is a gluten free option. Things like this can only help to reassure you that they are taking it seriously. After hours and hours of walking, we needed to find somewhere for dinner which is where my trusted printouts were vital. We walked, despite being beyond knackered, in order to spend our last night in Rome eating in a less run of the mill restaurant, Casa Bleve. My printout had led us their only to find a notice on the door saying they were closed for summer holidays.

‘Not to worry’ I thought, despite wondering how much further my legs could carry me, ‘there’s another restaurant on my list that is close by’. We dragged ourselves to Quinzi e Gabrieli only to find that they were also closed for summer holidays. We decided to walk back on ourselves and stop at the first restaurant we found and that I would just have to spend my last night having a salad or something equally as average but gluten free. We found a restaurant nearby called Pummarola & Drink and so we all decided upon our dishes and I asked if the escalope was gluten free at which point the waiter, who had been very attentive, said that they could give me any of the pasta dishes as gluten free dishes. Thankfully I was able to spend my last meal in Rome delving into a huge (the biggest portion we had had) plate of spaghetti and eating at a restaurant with wonderful service.

I was so thankful to the individuals that posted their gluten free Rome experiences online for me to use as a guide, the Italians for being nothing but accommodating and my stomach for allowing me to spend my long weekend in Rome without any problems!!

I loved Rome, the people, the historic feel, the enthusiastic language, the beauty, the architecture, the glamorous outfits of the Italian ladies and without a doubt the gluten free food! I could never taste that it was gluten free and enjoyed every single mouthful. Now I just need to go back to experience the Trevi fountain, minus the scaffolding, and of course to experience culinary delights at Casa Bleve!!

Panama Part 2

We arrived in Bocas del Toro to torrential rain, Caribbean accents and the sounds of reggae. We travelled to Bocas by boat and spent the first afternoon (when the rain had stopped) exploring the beaches.

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Throughout our time in Bocas we ate some amazing food, curried fish and coconut rice was one of my standout favourites. We walked everywhere and were constantly surrounded by reggae and friendly locals. It feels very much like you are part of the community and every evening was spent at a different restaurant on a jetty over the water.
In Bocas in December you have to be prepared for torrential downpours at some point in the afternoon/early evening but once the skies clear the weather is lovely and warm.
A day that will live in my memory forever was spent in Bocas. We travelled to ‘Dolphin Bay’ and caught a glimpse of some dolphins dining on jellyfish. Being the first time seeing dolphins in the wild was amazing and a privilege. We went from Dolphin Bay onto Isla Zapatilla, a beautiful, calm, deserted island with clear blue water as far as the eye can see. I felt like I had been marooned in the set of Pirates of the Caribbean!! We were then taken by our guide to see some sloths before heading on to a great spot for snorkelling which was a great experience. We spent the remainder of the day on the beach and I wish I could live that day again and again!!
I was extremely sad to leave Bocas and it’s heavy Caribbean feel but I went on to the San Blas islands which were straight out of paradise and provided a back to basics experience with the tranquility and amazing sunshine I was after! Seeing the 365 minute islands was amazing and I love that tourism is yet to spoil them and I don’t imagine the locals will let that happen!

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Isla Zapatilla

Bocas and San Blas are two areas of paradise that gave me experiences that I will treasure for a lifetime.

Panama – courtesy of Gadventures Pt 1

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My trip didn´t get off to the best start, my outbound flight from the UK to New York was delayed meaning that I had limited time (40 minutes instead of the 5 hours I had scheduled) to get through US security which anyone who has travelled to the US knows is almost impossible. Running out of time I sprinted to the gate on my boarding pass only to catch sight of the TV screens which said that my flight was leaving from a different gate. After a frantic ten or so minutes running from one end of the terminal to the other, I was then told that my flight was leaving from the gate originally on my boarding pass – thanks Newark with your inaccurate information – and then had to run back to where I had been originally. I was the last passenger to board and it took me a good 30 minutes to be able to breathe normally again!

Thankfully, the rest of my trip was much smoother than the start of it. We started our trip in Panama City and met our Gadventures tour guide Andrea at our first hotel. The weather in December was humid but with beautifully warm evenings. We went for dinner in a traditional restaurant in a beautiful old square in the Casco Viejo. I can’t take about Panama City without talking about the Panama Canal and Miraflores lock. I was amazed to learn about the history of the Panama Canal and to see Miraflores lock in action was something else. The feat of engineering is absolutely outstanding and I feel lucky to have witnessed it. Work is currently being undertaken to build a second canal and I hope that it is magnificent as the first!!

The next day we left early to travel to the mountainous Boquete. There was a drastic drop in temperature and an increase in rain but it only made our surroundings even more beautiful. In Boquete we did a waterfall hike through the mountains which although was far muddier than we were prepared for, I really enjoyed doing something a bit more active, especially after our 8 hour journey in a minivan on bumpy roads the day before. I don´t know how we made it down from the hike without any injuries and only plenty of shoes caked in mud because it was so slippery because of the rainfall in the mountains. In Boquete we experienced our first Panamanian local restaurants which offer cheap, fresh, typically Panamanian food – very similar to the Sodas of Costa Rica.

A Panoramic tour of Boquete took in coffee plantations, a minor earthquake, a volcano – Volcán Baru, winding roads, luscious green foliage and local communities. Here is where I tasted a coffee bean before it goes through the coffee making processes, saw even more waterfalls and bought some of the strongest bags I own from the locals using only natural materials. It was Boquete that really made me realise how untouched by tourism parts of the world can be. In more remote parts of Boquete they speak their own local language and have very few belongings. One house had no windows and only a breeze block shell for a house. The children had an old worn out football and a teddy bear which was hanging on the washing line made from natural materials. The thing that struck me was how the community had such a strong community feel and had no idea how poor in monetary terms they were but how rich in community spirit they were. I had to admire their work ethic, how they retained their own language, dress and philosophy and how they lived hand in hand with nature. I felt so sad that they had very little but hope that their community never loses its roots and stays untouched from outside influences.

Boquete is small and so a couple of days was enough time to spend there. We managed to fit plenty in and ate plenty of fresh food including lots of fish and amazing bread and cakes from the local bakery. I was sad to leave the mountains of Boquete because it is absolutely stunning and the local people are amazing and welcoming of so many tourists. Next stop was Bocas del Toro which deserves a whole post of its own….coming soon in Part 2.