Category Archives: Being Vegetarian In…

Latvia & Estonia

This has been a long time coming — we took this trip back in September 2016! But, as they say, it’s here now — for posterity, if nothing else.

Parnu

This small beach town, located on Estonia’s southern coast, is windswept even in the summer. if you’re looking for crystal clear, warm waters to swim in, go to the Caribbean. Like most European beaches, the water here is freezing in August. Bonus: we arrived on a cool, rainy day unworthy of inspiring beach confidence, but odds are slim of a relaxing dip even on a sweltering Estonian day. The good thing going for our particular hotel (Rannus Hotel) was the long stretch of waist-deep water almost half a kilometre in from shore. Much fun for kids without parents’ fear of losing them to the cavernous ocean.

The town itself has a laid-back feel to it, and we were lucky to arrive on the day of the town festival, a carnival like atmosphere brimming with festivities. We seemed to be a peculiar sight in this small town, though. Many a backward glances, curious stares, maybe even suspicious sideeyes thrown our way. Maybe the locals aren’t used to tourists and are wary of any strangers? It did seem to not have any racial diversity from what we could make out — made for some definitel discomfort on our part, unfortunately. Our trying to decipher whether a burger offered by a street vendor was vegetarian by looking up its toppings on Google Translate probably didn’t help matters.

downloads
Burger puzzle (top left), hanging shoes, desolate sea, biking alternative

On to Tallin.

The capital of Estonia, about 2 hours’ drive north of Parnu, Tallinn’s old town is a beautiful medieval area quite authentically preserved, Wrapped around a vibrant square, populated by quaint little souvenir shops bored into ancient walls, the old town is a tourist’s delight. Amble about leisurely amidst period clapboard neighbourhoods, stop to admire the knit market, have the kids run around in plenty of dotted green spaces; Tallinn is a pleasant 2-day stay with a free, bohemian feel to it.

downloads1

Sigulda

Contrary to my earlier perception, Estonia is still largely rural. And flat. The 4-hour drive from Tallinn to Sigulda is a study n stretches of redwood forests, flatlands and isolated homesteads. No stark vistas like Iceland or stunning scenery like Norway, but it has its quiet charm. Also, even roadside/gas station coffee is good!

Nothing much to do in Sigulda itself, but the Tarzan Adventure Park is great if travelling with kiddos. It’s mostly empty off-season and has amazing ziplines, challenging obstacle courses, archery etc, easily a half- to full-day fun. We, again, arrived on a rainy morning but at least it was staffed and our two had the run of the place.

downloads2

Riga

What a bustling city Riga is. It feels like a young Milan or a bubbly Paris, without the baggage. Hip metrosexuals haunt its pubs and cafes; smart, young parents take their snazzily-dressed kids out to play in the day and then haunt those pubs themselves come evening. The best decision we made was the rent bike for the day and just cycle the city, taking in its sights and stopping wherever the mood struck. Even my usually moody and travel-jaded kids loved it and still talk about our “bike-trip Riga” trip.

downloads3

Dining-wise, even though we couldn’t sample much of the meat-heavy local cuisine, pizzerias and cafes that serve delicious bread and coffee abound, so being vegetarian in this region is really no problem. Big cities like Tallinn and Riga have quite a lot of ethnic options as well such as Indian, Thai etc.

Advertisements

Norway is expensive!

Unless you’re touring Norway all expenses paid (with a tour operator, for eg.) or you belong to a royal family somewhere, be prepared to shell out big bucks for eating out in this gorgeous country. Vegetarian or not. We traveled with a big crowd and ended up cooking most of our meals in our apartment hotels, but even with that condition, eating is a big deal here. Groceries cost twice or thrice what they do in the U.K. at the minimum. (Staples such as milk and eggs are at least twice the cost while indulgences like fruit and veggies cost much more.)

That said, eating vegetarian while on the go is about as easy or hard as finding the next pizza place or Indian joint. In bigger cities like Oslo and Bergen, most people speak English well, so ordering, say pizza toppings, isn’t tedious at all. In smaller towns, locals may not be as fluent but they more than make up for it in friendliness. A bit of pointing and nodding will likely get you the food that you intend to order. Bonus: Norwegian beer is nothing to scoff at! If nothing else works, at least you’ll be sloshed enough to not notice.

Greece

Eating vegetarian in urban Greece is a breeze. With English widely spoken and a cosmopolitan population, Athens is a haven for foodies, whether you prefer restaurant-style food or roadside stands. Tzatziki (that delicious cucumber-dill dip) served with warm pita is as common as air in these parts. Every taverna, hole-in-wall establishment and restaurant serves at least this as its vegetarian offering, if nothing else. More often, though, they will serve pita pockets stuffed with various fresh vegetables topped with a generous dollop of tzatziki. Love.

Smaller towns, especially over holiday seasons or in the winter, may not offer much choice to vegetarians. In such a case, head over to the town square to gauge your best bet — usually a pizzeria or a local pub-type place will be open for business and will lazily serve you up their only veggie item on menu: you guessed it. It has to be said, I did not encounter a single bad tzatziki experience.

Another common menu item is vegetables (commonly green pepper, tomato) stuffed with a rice mixture served with homestyle french fries. This can be a hit or miss. Some places serve soggy vegetable husks stuffed with mediocre at best rice. Best to avoid if you can ascertain before ordering. Those classically Greek dishes such as moussaka that might be available in vegetarian versions elsewhere are always meat laden in their native state. No go. Also, hummous is NOT Greek. (What!)

Even though Greece does vegetarianism fairly well, you would do well to remember it is a meat-eating and meat-loving country. Plan accordingly.

A word of caution: Unless you care for the taste of burnt toast mixed to a sludge in muddy hot water, Greek coffee is best left to the locals who’ve grown up on the taste. Be warned.