In Love with a Map


Day Seventeen: A Map as Your Muse


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I have a confession to make.  I once fell in love with a map book and still have feelings for it.  There, I have said it.  I hope you don’t think any less of me…

Maps have always been kinda fascinating to me, all those lines everywhere, all those different places and things out there to discover.  They seem to hold endless possibilities for exploration and adventure.  Maybe they appeal because they show the way and to someone still trying to find their way in life, that attracts.  I had never though got as excited by a map as I did with this one.

As part of our Big Adventure we travelled round New Zealand in a motor home for 4 weeks.  Tucked away in the glove box was this map book, quietly unassuming, waiting for me to pick it up.  Once I did, I was hooked and would often exclaim ‘this is such a good map book’ (often = daily…possibly more than once…)

Although we had a plan of where we would be travelling to, we chose places to stay as we went and this map simply had all the information we needed – DOC campsites, dump stations, sightseeing spots and of course the roads!  We learnt names of mountains and lakes, saw spots used in the Lord of the Ring films, changed routes because we saw something interesting on the map, found random places to stay.

The map book became as much as part of our travels in New Zealand as the motor home was or we were.  I can’t think of our time there without thinking of it.  I fell in love with it so much that I didn’t want to part with it.  Asking anyone for anything is not really in my comfort zone especially if they might think I’m odd or there is a chance they might say no.  This map book pushed me to do something I am very anxious about and I happily carried my map onto my onward flight from Auckland.

I may never return to New Zealand and may never ever need to use that map again.  The sight of it though makes me happy, it brings back memories of that trip, reminds me of freedom and most of all it reminds me that I can be brave.  Who’d have thought a map book could do all of that.

Vegan Adventures in Orlando


 

“The only thing I like better than talking about food is eating” – John Walters

 


Whilst away in Orlando this was the blog post I was really excited about doing on my return!  I took lots and lots and lots (get the idea that it was lots?!) of photos of what I was eating and couldn’t wait to share with you all what I had discovered on my trip.  I think all those photos were my downfall though!  I kept looking at how many there were to sort through and kept putting it off.  At long last though I have given myself a talking to and finally sat down to write this post.  Or should that say ‘these posts’…I have so much to talk about Disney wise that I think I will briefly touch on it here and then give you all the details in another post.  How does that sound?

Having only made the switch to a plant-based diet in January (I took part in Veganuary having been a vegetarian for 20 years and then kept on going!), I was quite nervous about how Orlando would treat me…would it be kind and offer lots of food or would it be a mean old Orlando where I would have to live on fries?  Especially as I find it really hard asking things in UK restaurants anyway thanks to my anxiety and hadn’t really eaten out since making the switch.  Happily on the whole Orlando was a lovely friend to me though we did have the odd falling out…

 

Theme Parks:

Disney World was on the whole pretty damn awesome and you’ll see exactly why when I write part 2 of this post (I promise it will follow on real soon!).

We were completely spoilt staying at the Animal Kingdom Lodge where we had the super amazing buffet at Boma complete with chefs that really seemed to know their thing about dietary issues.  The quick service Mara also had staff who would happily make changes for you or get a chef from next door to do something special for you.

Vegan Mickey waffles

Vegan Mickey waffles!

The parks themselves were a bit of a mixed bunch.  Magic Kingdom and Epcot seemed to provide the most choice whilst Hollywood Studios was one of the times me and Orlando fell out.  Lets just say I was relieved to have snacks with me.  Animal Kingdom had reasonable choice, I think I was simply unlucky in not being near anything at lunch when I didn’t have the time to go walking elsewhere thanks to a Nemo reservation.  We lucked out when we made the trip out to Fort Wilderness Campgrounds by getting the legendary Chef TJ (give vegan at Disney a google and I guarantee he will pop up!).  Added to this the rather big choice at Disney Springs ~ well me and Disney got on very fine indeed generally.

Now in stark contrast to Disney, Universal was where me and Orlando fell out.  Inside both parks, the choice for anybody with any form of dietary requirements was very poor (words from the mouth of a member of staff).  The Harry Potter areas had a few options at the Three Broomsticks and Leaky Cauldron that would allow you to cobble together a meal however neither fitted in with where we were when we wanted to eat so I made do with some fries and a Lara bar that I had with me (I miss you Lara Bars!).  Outside the parks in City Walk, there was actually a few options ~ hurrah!  We choose to try out the Mexican restaurant Antojitos LINK rather than the Italian Vivos as we were a little fed up of pizza (I know!  How is that even possible?!) and had some tasty authentic food accompanied by a mariachi band.  Our server was pretty helpful with my choices and I had the Vegetarianas Enchiladas without the queso fresco plus some nachos with salsa.  Yummy meal…just a shame we had to leave the parks to get it.  I was so hungry by the time we got there, I forgot to take photos…

vegan rainbow Dippin Dots at Universal, Orlando

Look at that happy little face!

Universal did slightly redeem itself by being the place to introduce me to Dippin Dots (again in City Walk).  These little balls of flash-frozen tasty deliciousness were one of my favourite discoveries in Orlando.  Not all flavours are vegan though there are a whole heap that are ~ Liberty Ice, Black Ice, Sour Blue Razz, Orange Ice, Blue Raspberry Ice, Lemon Ice, Lime Ice, Strawberry Ice, Mango-Pineapple Sorbet, Strawberry Sorbet and my personal favourite Rainbow Ice.

 

Outside the parks:

We did do some eating outside the parks too though not enough if the standard of what we did eat is anything to go by!

Compared to the supermarkets over here, the big grocery stores in Orlando were a treasure trove of goodies.  From meals to snacks, the choice was amazing and slightly overwhelming!  It was way too easy to leave laden down with crisps (chips), snacks bars, vegan cheeses, hummus and tasty salads.  Whole Foods Market near Universal was my favourite with its hot food and salad bar which you can stuff…I mean place a small amount… into containers to take away.  Oh and they had seriously delicious vegan doughnuts!

On one Sunday we made our way to Lake Eola Park in downtown Orlando for the farmers market held there every Sunday.  It feels a world away from the theme parks and was a lovely relaxing place to stroll and hang out with locals.  There was stack loads of choice including a really tantalising Mexican stall which I still wish I’d tried.  In the end though we all ended up at the hot dog stall where I had a tasty vegan dog with almost all the trimmings which I followed up with grilled corn and a vegan ice cream.

Vegan hot dog at farmers market in Lake Eola Park, Orlando

Funnily enough I found a really enjoyable salad way out at Kennedy Space Centre.  I wasn’t holding out much hope for vegan food there and the first food places we came across seemed to support this.  I was about to resign myself to doing a Universal i.e. fries followed by my own snacks when the Orbit Cafe saved the day with its build your own salad!  So I choose a base of mixed leaves and then all the veggie options (other than mushrooms…still working on eating them) plus a few extras from the topping bar.  A tasty surprise to find!

Build your own salad, Orbit Cafe, Kennedy Space Centre, vegan, orlando

By far though the highlight of my vegan experience in Orlando was eating at the truly amazing Ethos ~ heck I’d go back simply to eat there again!  Oh my what can I say about this place that does it justice?!  Set in the artsy and historical area of Winter Park,  Ethos is a 100% vegan restaurant serving gorgeous home-style food that will satisfy anyone, whatever they eat.  All 3 of us (1 vegan and 2 omnivores) rolled out of the restaurant filled to the brim with good food and coffee.  Between us we demolished sauasage rolls, blackened tempeh with rice, beans and veggies, an all American burger and a chickun bruschetta sandwich followed by carrot cake, chocolate amaretto mousse and an espresso topped vanilla ice cream.  As I say, we rolled out the place!

(check out the menus on the link above and get ready to drool!)

Sorry the photos aren’t quite the best….the downside of sitting on a small table by the window on a sunny day!

Wow talking about all that food has made me real hungry and wanting to go back to try out more tasty food there.  The wilds of Cumbria is not the natural habitat of a vegan!  So have you been to Orlando?  How did you find it food-wise?

Part 2 of my vegan adventures in Orlando to follow…

 

 

 

 

An Introvert in Orlando

Jeep on deserted beach at Fort de Soto, Florida

Our jeep on a quiet beach at Fort de Soto

So I promised more news on my trip to Orlando in my last post and here it is!  As the internet already has heaps of things on what there is to see and do there (hint it’s way more than a 3 week vacation could possibly fit in ~ I don’t think we did more than pass brief greetings with Orlando), I thought I would write that post I promised on my experience as an anxious introvert in a very extroverted place.

Orlando is awesome and has so many levels to it beyond the theme parks and bright lights that I think most people could find things they like about it.  Being completely honest I was quite doubtful before we went whether I would like it, believing that it wasn’t my ‘type’ of place.  Yet I did like it and I enjoyed being there.  I found an openness about the people and the surroundings that I loved, interesting art spots, fantastic food and wild spaces that called out for exploration if we’d only had the time.

Airboat ride on Lake Tohopekaliga, Florida

Stunning open space of Lake Tohopekaliga in Kissimmee

Yet Orlando is not without its negatives and as an introvert who finds attention, planning, crowds, noise and lack of space anxiety inducing, it is quite a challenging place too.  Before we went, we kept hearing how you needed to plan what you were doing in minute detail for everything from rides to meals.  Now my name is Joanna and I am a planner.  Planning has been my downfall in the past, I have over-planned time and time again, struggling to get the perfect plan and not coping when things did not follow that plan.  It has been a core aspect of my anxiety for many years and spoilt many a thing for me so nowadays I try to be a little less planned.  This insistence on the need to plan to have a good holiday…well it made me quite anxious.  Beyond reading guide books once, booking 1 Disney restaurant (I was not missing out on the Winnie the Pooh character buffet!) and a little research on vegan eating or motion sickness on rides, we didn’t really plan too much.  And guess what, we had a damn fine holiday!  Okay maybe we didn’t see everything that we wanted to, however my life feels no less complete for this and I stressed less than if I had a list of planned things to tick off.  If theme parks are your thing and you only have 2 weeks in which to fit in as much as you possibly can, I suppose you would want to plan but for me this wasn’t an issue and I felt better for doing my Orlando holiday my way.

Crowds at Magic Kingdom, Disney World

Though not as busy as it can get, we were in Orlando during spring break and there was a big sporting event on so it was way busier than my comfort level usually sits at.  At times I did find the crowds of people overwhelming and felt in need of escape.  I struggle with the raised noise of lots of people talking and still am not really sure how to deal with this other than simply letting the panic feeling pass.  Combine this with a lack of solitary quiet time that a busy holiday often results in and my capacity for coping with others suffered.  Time on my own is when I calm my thoughts, process all that is whirling around my head and recharge my ‘spending time with other people’ levels.  Less quiet time = tense and crotchety me.  This ‘may’ have happened in Orlando…sorry Phillip and mum….

One thing that really did have me worried before we went was how I would cope with all the attention I was positive would thrown my way by enthusiastic people dressed as characters or staff in general.  I’m not quite sure why I expected such an avalanche of attention and was seriously relieved that it wasn’t generally the case.  Universal didn’t seem to really bother you unless you went out of your way to involve yourself in a character greet or street performance.  Disney do give you a certain level of extra attention though staff seemed to be fairly good at realising if you are not someone who wants the whole full on fuss.  Our character encounters were few and far between as they weren’t really wandering around accosting unwary people and I wasn’t queuing up for photos with someone dressed up in a costume (I seriously am crap at role play, my brain simply won’t let me get over the fact that the character is not real!).  We did two character meals in the end ~ one by accident! ~ and that was an odd experience especially as we had no children in our group to use as an excuse.  My way of coping?  I decided that being awkward about hugging a stranger in a furry costume would only make the whole situation even more awkward.  So I hugged as good as I could!

I said in my post whilst in Orlando that being there was like a roller coaster and it truly was.  There were the lows of the challenges doing anything with anxiety usually brings and there were the whopping highs of fireworks, air boats, jeep driving, animals, amazing vegan foods and seeing my mum have an amazing time.  And at the end was that happy feeling of ‘I want to do that all again’.

Happy people at Universal, Florida

Hello from Orlando!

Vegan Mickey waffles

Sorry it has been a little quiet on here…as I suspected would be the case, going away on holiday has played havoc with my writing and blog posting.  Finding time when we are either not busy or I am not too exhausted to even think, let alone write, has proved somewhat elusive.

So I have grabbed a few quiet moments in the early morning watching the sun rise from my balcony to pop by and say hello to you all.  I really relish my early morning sits on my balcony  – these moments when it is simply me, some animals (a bonus of staying at Disney Animal Kingdom Lodge is the animals outside – today I am joined by grey crowned cranes, zebras and our personal favourite the Marabou Stork or as we like to know him ‘Mr Patrol Stork’) and the relative quiet are my balm against the whirlwind of hubbub and activity that surrounds me.

My holiday in Orlando is proving to be a roller coaster as bonkers as some of the ones I have seen here.  It is a mixture of challenges (being here is certainly not the natural habitat of an introvert who likes their own space) and ‘yay’ moments like when we accidentally timed our boat back to Magic Kingdom to see the fireworks and the start of the electrical parade.  Oh and eating in Orlando as a vegan is a roller coaster in itself!

There is much to share with you and I promise that I will on my return.  I simply wanted to give you all a wave from sunny Florida ~ the sun is up now and I am off to play!

 

Button Jamboree is off on holiday!

Plane wing in flight

Suitcases are packed, passports checked (and checked again and then checked some more) and we are ready for high jinks and adventures.  We booked our holiday way back in June last year and it seemed so far away, now all of a sudden it has crept up on us.  Tomorrow we head to Manchester ready for our flight Tuesday morning.

So where are we off to I hear you ask?!  We are heading off to the sunny climes of Orlando with my mum to celebrate her 70th birthday last month (happy birthday mum!).  It’s my first trip to the US and my first time anywhere Disney having never made it to Tokyo Disneyland or Disneyland Paris.  I am pretty excited about a whole heap of things ~ airboat ride in the swamps to see alligators, going on ‘It’s a Small World’ and ‘ET’ (yep I am still a small child at heart!) , getting to try some of the awesome sounding vegan food I have read about in Orlando, drives to the ocean, manatee spotting….

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Me being me though there are nerves and worry mixed in with all the buzz and excitement.  Travelling always causes me no small amount of anxiety ~ ironic I know given Our Big Adventure and the fact that we are planning to do more.  I do my best not to let it stop me though and accept the doubts and occasional terror my anxiety throws my way.  Otherwise my world and experiences would be very small.  I am all ears for any tips on travel anxiety you’d like to share!

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It’s going to be quite an interesting experience going to Orlando and very different for us from our normal type of adventure.  I have found myself questioning on occasion what an introvert like me who struggles sometimes with crowds and noise, dislikes attention and finds planning often equals a rise in my anxiety levels, will make of places like Disney and Universal.  I think we will have to do Orlando our way, a little different from the norm…I will let you know how we get on.

I am planning to keep my blog up to date whilst away…or at least try to.  If it is a little quiet on there though, you know why!

Our Big Adventure

Mazda Bongo campervan

It is nearly 3 years since we put our home on the market and started planning our ‘Big Adventure’.  Countless times before and during our travels we heard the exclamation ‘you are so brave’ and maybe we were, I don’t know.  All I know is that the fear of not doing it beat the fear of doing it.  For someone who got seriously over anxious about the smallest of social occasions or even deciding what to have for a drink at my very worst, I suppose it was an incredibly big step to take and in the end I think we both stepped so far out of our comfort zones that we never could step back again even if we wanted to.

Being in a reminiscing mood today, I thought I would tell a little more about our ‘Big Adventure’.  I have mentioned it in passing in previous posts and felt it was time to put some flesh on those bones.

Before jetting off to foreign adventures, we wanted to spend time exploring our own country.  We set off in our trusty Mr Bongo and travelled up the east side of England into Scotland, back down again via the west side and then across the bottom.  Our route was based on random things such as places we had seen on the weather map, ones from books I had read as a child or simply because we liked the name.  Our Bongo travels introduced us to life without planning and how to trust that things would work out if we didn’t plan every step.  Our adventure started and ended with life in our little Bongo home.

Next stop on our travels was a week in Singapore.  To be quite honest we took a gamble booking a stopover here as we knew virtually nothing about the country and simply wanted somewhere on the way to New Zealand that wasn’t the standard option of Dubai or Hong Kong.  It was proof that gambles are worth taking – Singapore is amazing!  If you ever get the chance to go, do!  Okay it could do with turning down the humidity level, nowhere is perfect though.  Singapore is friendly, easy to travel around on public transport, full of good food, wondrous sights and a glorious mesh of cultures.

Gardens by the Bay 'Supertrees@

Photo of Gardens by the Bay in Singapore by ColobusYeti and available at Shutterstock

After a tense and stressful flight via Hong Kong (tip folks – always make sure that your baggage allowance is the same for all flights on a multi-flight trip!), we landed in New Zealand.  My head found it really weird to comprehend that I was actually on the other side of the world!  After staying with friends in Auckland for a week (including a mini road trip up to Cape Reinga), we picked up our monster camper with 2 double beds and set off on our road trip round the two islands…and boy did we see some roads!  We travelled past beaches, through mountain passes, across water, spent the night next to a colony of fur seals, saw wild penguins and laughed ourselves silly at the birds.  New Zealand is a gloriously beautiful, friendly and laid back country.  Having not been too fussed initially, I would return in a heartbeat if the opportunity arose.

Motorhome at Cape Palliser, New Zealand

Photo of our motorhome at Cape Palliser by ColobusYeti and available at Shutterstock

Our final stop on our travels was Tokyo…for 6 months.  We had visited Japan a fair few times and wanted to experience life there.  Living somewhere is so completely different to visiting and it blindsided us for a while how much we struggled at first.  Everything ‘normal’ seemed so..well…not normal.  We did travel a little whilst there, mostly though our time was spent exploring our city and falling in love with life there in a way we never foresaw.  There were times of isolation and also of belonging.  When we returned to the UK, we left our home behind and have missed it ever since.

Buildings in Yanaka, Tokyo

The view from our apartment window in Yanaka, Tokyo

This is a simple snap shot of our travels, a topic I could write about again and again.  And I am sure that I will – let me know if you’d like to hear about any part in particular!

Anyone thinking of travelling, do it.  Stop making excuses and do it.  Before it really is too late.  It is challenging and amazing.  Our ‘Big Adventure’ shaped us and continues to influence who we are and what we do.