Category Archives: Travels

Eating Out with Allergies in Rome

After our week near Orvieto, we wended our way to Rome for the last few days of our holiday. I had done a smidgeon more research for our stay there, which uncovered one absolute cracker of a restaurant a mere stone’s throw from our apartment near the Vatican City. We enjoyed some great, safe meals elsewhere too, most of which we walked into from the street and were impressed by just how well catered for both G and M were:

Hard Rock Cafe Rome

: The one request we had on the drive from Orvieto to Rome was if we could find the Hard Rock Cafe in Rome for dinner during our stay. Whilst Mike and I were keen to find some more authentically Italian places to eat whilst we were there, it was an easy option for the our first evening in Rome and allowed us to fit in a little sightseeing as well as we found our way to the restaurant via the Spanish Steps and wandered past the Trevi Fountain on the return trip. After such a fantastic meal in HRC Florence, we had high hopes for a repeat performance at the Rome branch, but both children were disappointed with the quality of the gluten-free bread rolls being too dry to complement the rest of their meal.

Il Nuovo Faro

: We wandered into this restaurant by mistake, but oh my goodness, what a success story it turned out to be. Less than 5 minutes from the Trevi Fountain, right in the heart of the tourist area, bustling and excellent service throughout the meal. There were so many safe options on the menu and M decided to take this first opportunity to try a traditionally Italian pizza. He started with a platter of smoked salmon and orange slices, followed by a Hawaiian pizza without cheese, whilst G chose a gluten-free spaghetti carbonara. Disappointingly there were no freefrom dessert options available that my 2 could eat, but after a delicious and filling meal, pudding wasn’t something any of us could realistically manage.

La Taverna del Ghetto

: Another knock-out walk-in win, this time for lunch in the Jewish Quarter. This was a relatively quick stop between our guided tour of the Colosseum and Roman Forum, and an afternoon visit to the Capitoline Museums. We found a street of welcoming restaurants and Mike did a quick scout of which could offer allergy-friendly options to our discerning duo. Most of them were able to serve gluten-free pasta even though it wasn’t clearly shown on the menus displayed outside the restaurants – a great demonstration of just how accommodating Italy can be, particularly to those who need to eat gluten-free. This time both children chose rigatoni – M with a tomato and basil sauce, whilst G again opted for a carbonara sauce. The portions were filling, but not too big, which was exactly what was needed to hit the spot in the middle of another hot day in Rome.

Eating Out with Allergies in Umbria

It has been quite some time since I lasted blogged and boy have those months been busy! Amongst other things we’ve celebrated a 16th birthday, survived the onslaught of BTEC and GCSE exams – as well as nearly all the results – some big changes at work and a performance in the West End by G and M. With so much going on, it’s been difficult to find time to put the proverbial pen to paper, but having just come back from an amazing 10 days in Italy, I was determined to find 5 minutes wherever I could to share our travel experiences.

Unusually, I didn’t do as much research on safe places to eat before we travelled as I have in the past, but having seen how well Italy accommodates those on special diets on our quick jaunt there a few years’ ago, I was hopeful we might have reasonable success. And so we did. With a little light touch internet searching on the ground to assist us, we found some amazing places to eat.

Our journey started in Pisa where we walked to see the Leaning Tower before heading for a quick pit-stop in Florence for lunch, and finally on to a beautiful farmhouse just outside Orvieto, where we spent the first week of our holiday. We didn’t eat out much whilst we were there, but the meals we did have were brilliant:

Hard Rock Cafe Florence: A holiday simply wouldn’t be a holiday without lunch at the local Hard Rock Cafe. I can’t say we go as far as planning our destinations around the HRC locations, but it is pretty much always one of the first things M asks about once he knows where we’re going. The Italian approach to allergy-friendly eating was a little different than we’re used to, with no separate menus, but we did have an extremely knowledgeable server who was able to tell both G and M if their selections were safe or not. G picked the BBQ pulled pork sandwich, whilst M chose  a starter of chicken wings, followed by the grilled chicken sandwich. Their plates were cleared in the usual fashion when we eat at a HRC and I’m told that the gluten-free bread rolls were the best that they’ve eaten anywhere in the world.

Antica Cantina, OrvietoOur base for the week, La Grande Quercia, was a fabulous farmhouse found on top of a hillside overlooking the cliff-top city of Orvieto and mid-week we decided to venture there for an explore and a lunch at the Antica Cantina restaurant. There were some great local specialities on the menu and M was delighted to learn that all of their pasta dishes could be made gluten- and dairy-free. The children started with a plate of parma ham and melon before G enjoyed a platter of goats’ cheeses with gluten-free bread and salad, and M selected the rigatoni with a tomato and smoked bacon sauce. Mike and I also chose regional dishes and we all very much enjoyed our first proper Italian meal out.

Trattoria del Buongusto, Marmore: Our one big day trip out was to the awe-inspiring Marmore Falls, the tallest man-made waterfall in the world. We spent our time exploring the various trails and climbing to get the most amazing views of all 3 tiers of the falls. We managed to buy a very basic hot dog lunch at the Falls themselves as there were no allergy-friendly options on offer, but our dinner at the nearby Trattoria del Buongusto more than made up for a somewhat scrappy lunch. Disappointingly they didn’t have any gluten-free pasta available the evening we were there, but our waitress was brilliant and helped translate the menu for us as well as letting us know which dishes could be prepared gluten- and dairy-free. This time G chose a cold meats and cheeses platter with salad and potatoes, whilst M feasted like a king on a mixed seafood platter starter followed by a mixed grill entree.

Summer Photo Round-up 2021

As well as our travels to the Lake District this summer, we also enjoyed theatre trips, filming, beach visits, hair-cuts, boules and a journey to the moon:

Enjoying the best of the Lakes – Part Two

When I said that the second half of our week’s holiday was just as busy as the first in last week’s blog, I wasn’t joking. Everyday saw us exploring a new corner of the Lake District in a myriad of different ways:

Borrowdale ValleyOur walk here was inspired by an article I had read about the so-called “Borrowdale Banksy” and a desire to see if we could find one of these stunning pieces of art whilst we walked the hills. Sadly we didn’t manage to uncover the location, which is a something of a secret, but we did find some stunning views and had the chance to climb the most spectacular hill of slate to look out over Derwentwater. It was a challenging walk, but we had a glorious day for our trek around the loop.

West Lake Adventures: During our visit to Lake Windermere, G and M spotted several people paddle-boarding and kayaking on the lake and asked if we could squeeze a similar excursion into our week for them. We hadn’t previously booked it, so were a little sceptical about what we might find, but were lucky to come across West Lake Adventures who offered a 2-3 hour kayaking session on the much quieter Wastwater. Wastwater can be found at the foot of Scafell Pike, which meant some absolutely amazing photos of both children and Mike kayaking with a simply jaw-dropping backdrop.

Whinlatter Forest: When G said she’d love to horse-ride whilst we were away, M made it equally clear that that wasn’t something he wanted to do and so we looked for an alternative adventure for him for a different day. The answer was a forest segway trail with Go Ape at Whinlatter Forest. Whilst the boys tackled the trail, G and I headed off on a search for the Gruffalo, which led us to a most perfectly positioned picnic area looking out over Derwentwater, somewhere we returned to with Mike and M to enjoy our lunch. We were very impressed by the cafe here too as it served the most amazing allergy-friendly sandwiches and ice-creams, something that came in very handy when we realised that Mike had left the children’s packed lunch in the fridge back at Brockwood Hall.

Morecambe Bay: Our final stop as we began our homeward journey, and one I insisted on, was at the delightful seaside town of Morecambe Bay. Of course best known for it’s iconic statue of classic British comedian Eric Morecambe, Morecambe Bay is more than just this depiction of its most famous son. We had perhaps the best weather of our whole trip as we strolled along the prom and walked out along the stone jetty to gaze back at the peaks that had been our home for the last week. Charming in every regard and the perfect ending to a truly stupendous holiday.

Enjoying the best of the Lakes – Part One

The one thing we made really clear to G and M when we booked our week away in the Lake District was that it was not going to be a “lie on the beach or in the hot tub” type holiday, but rather one involving lots of exercise, especially walking. M has recently been confirmed as having hypermobility and so has been having physiotherapy to work on the strength needed to support his hips and knees as his intense growth spurt over the last 18 months has had a knock-on effect on those. I was a little concerned that he may struggle whilst we were walking and climbing far more than normal, but thankfully his joints held up well to all the challenges presented.

Black Combe – the first walk we tackled was just a 10- minute drive from our home-base at Brockwood Hall and an ambitious one for our first full day in Cumbria. We didn’t make it all the way to the very top, but got high enough to enjoy some spectacular views, albeit we weren’t quite able to see all the way to Scotland, Ireland and Wales as the very best days allow. After so many months of staying so very close to home, it was simply glorious to be out in the fresh air and feasting our eyes on a completely different part of the country.

Cumbrian Heavy Horses – G has been a fairly keen horse rider over the years, though it has been a while since she last rode. Mike found the opportunity for her to ride whilst we were in the Lake District at this centre a mere stone’s throw from where we were staying and booked her in for a 2 hour ride on the Sunday morning. Despite it being the wettest day of our entire week, G absolutely loved the ride and came back with a beaming smile. Mike joined her for the ride and managed to get some great photos of it all.

Silecroft & Haverrig beaches – wanting to get out of our lodge for some fresh air and a stretch of our legs, I suggested we headed to nearby Silecroft beach for a somewhat blustery walk. It was undeniably cold, grey and windy, although spotting a seal swimming and popping its’ head out of the water was a definite highlight for us all. A mere 45 minutes or so later, we finally gave into the moans emanating from both children and climbed back into the car. Much to their disgust, I convinced Mike to drive a little further around the coast so we could walk the sandy beach at Haverrig as well. Much to all our delight, it was as if we had entered an entirely different climate and instead of the grey blusteriness of Silecroft, we basked in glorious sunshine, whilst G and M clambered up and over the dunes.

Lake Windermere – no visit to the Lake District would be complete without a day trip to one of the Lakes and so we headed to Lake Windermere for almost a full day. We parked a little outside of the town of Bowness-on-Windermere and stumbled across a beautiful lakeside path as we strolled towards the centre of the town. The plan was for a lakeside cruise with Windermere Lake Cruises and we picked one which would take us on a circular route starting and ending in Bowness. It then turned into a busy day as we squeezed in a quick visit to the World of Beatrix Potter -another of my holiday picks – although we’d have been hard-pressed to spend much more than the 30 minutes we did spend there. Our evening finished with a fish supper courtesy of the wonderful Vinegar Jones that I mentioned in my last post.

The second half of our week was just as busy as the first, but you’ll have to tune back in to Part 2 to find out what else we did!

Eating Out with Allergies in the Lake District

I have to confess that I didn’t do as much research into allergy-friendly restaurants for our stay in the Lake District as I would normally do when we travel. Part of that was that I wasn’t really sure how comfortable I would be in eating out during the week as the COVID restrictions have lifted and knew that we could take advantage of our self-catering lodge for our meals if we wanted, albeit that would mean not as much of a holiday as I would perhaps have liked. However, despite my unusual lack of planning in advance, we found some wonderful places to eat that were more than able to accommodate the various dietary requirements for us all:

Bentley’s Fish and Chips, BlackpoolI mentioned this wonderful chip shop in last week’s blog, but absolutely felt it needed including in my round-up of our allergy-friendly eateries. They boasted a dedicated gluten-free fryer for the fish and chips and the portions were more than large enough to satisfy the appetite of the teenage M for at least an hour or so! I enjoyed the scampi, whilst Mike added battered haggis to his order, and although neither of these were gluten-free, they were delicious.

The Punch Bowl Inn, MillomThis was an unexpected find less than 10 minutes away from our base for the week and we were so impressed by their offerings on the Saturday night, that we booked to go again the following Wednesday. They change their menu on a weekly basis, always making sure to include some new allergy-friendly options alongside the regular gammon and steak offerings. G and M chose the gammon and chips, which again were generously portioned and a big hit with both children. Mike tried their allergy-friendly king prawn curry on the Wednesday, which also got a good review.

Vinegar Jones, Bowness-on-WindermereThere’s nothing better than spotting a place that’s keen to advertise their allergy-friendly options and Vinegar Jones’ large window display stating that they serve gluten-free fish and chips daily absolutely did that. Obviously a popular destination in Bowness-on-Windermere, we joined the lengthy line that was queuing along the pavement and kept our fingers crossed that it could meet the requirements of my discerning duo. Given it’s presence on this list, it’s perhaps needless to state that it was another resounding success and somewhere I’d be more than happy to recommend to anyone visiting the area.

The Flying Pig Pub, Bowness-on-Windermere: This was an unexpected late addition and not somewhere we had planned to eat at all. M had spotted swordfish on the menu at the nearby Hyltons restaurant whilst we were waiting for our food to be cooked at Vinegar Jones and asked if we could pop back on another evening. We hadn’t really expected to have the time, but a quicker than anticipated visit to Keswick meant that we had time to head back to Bowness, only to find the restaurant in question closed for the evening. Instead, we found the Flying Pig Pub, which proved to be a reasonable replacement, although they didn’t offer swordfish much to M’s disappointment. G once again plumped for the gammon and chips, whilst M tried the chargrilled steak burger without the cheese. Both were happy with their meals and I certainly enjoyed the moules marinière with fresh bread.

 

August 2021: A Visit to the Lakes

It’s been a long time coming, but finally, 20 months after our last trip to New York, we managed to get away and enjoyed a week in the Lake District for our summer hols. I have been looking forward and counting down to our break, not least because I was excited to have a chance to look at a different set of 4 walls for a few hours – 20 months of lockdown and shielding will do that to a girl! We had planned the trip months ago, and with the huge increase in the number of UK holidays being booked as well as climbing prices, I’m really glad we did so as it was break away from home that we all needed.

As we have done so many times in the past, we decided to stop off on our way there to not just break the tedium of the lengthy car journey up, but also to take G and M somewhere they hadn’t been before. In this instance, Blackpool seemed an obvious choice, not least because neither Mike or I had been there either. After an early start, we reached Blackpool in time for a late lunch and it seemed the perfect opportunity to find gluten-free fish and chips for us all to enjoy. As always I did as much research as possible before we arrived and found what looked to be a good contender with consistently positive reviews and talk of a dedicated gluten-free fryer.

The weather was glorious as we strolled along the prom towards Bentley’s Fish and Chip shop and by the time we reached the shop we were all more than ready for our lunch. Tucked away from the main stretch of Blackpool, we decided to sit at one of the picnic tables outside the shop and enjoy the August sun alongside our fish and chips. The portions were plentiful and received rave reviews from us all. Lunch finished, we headed to the Adventure Golf course near Blackpool Pleasure Beach to play a quick round of mini golf before resuming our journey to the Lakes. The weather was brilliant and it was a super start to our family holiday and I even managed an elusive hole-in-one nearing the end of the course!

It was then back to the car and onwards to our final destination, which was a lodge at the beautiful Brockwood Hall near Millom. I had found it thanks to a recommendation from a friend and it was a wonderful base for our week away, albeit perhaps a little more remote than we had originally thought. We particularly enjoyed the peacocks roaming the site, even though they were extremely noisy in the evenings, and G was delighted to count 9 of them one morning just a stone’s throw from our lodge.

 

June 2021: Eating our way around the World

Whilst we still can’t do much more than dream about resuming our international travel adventures at the moment, we have been talking lots about where we’d like to go once we can start again. We’ve discussed weekends away, city breaks, longer holidays and birthday treats, not least because G will be turning 18 at the end of this year. Some destinations have been something of a surprise (Hungary and Russia in the middle of the winter to name a couple), whilst others have been on one family member or another’s wish list for a long time.

There has also been a definite fatigue within the 7Q2D kitchen over the last few months and so, taking inspiration from all of our conversations about travel, I decided to pick a handful of countries and their cuisines to influence our menu choices. It started with a return to a recipe I’d adapted whilst we were watching the Great British Bake-Off last year and both children fancied trying the Japanese steamed buns that were prepared. I made them in the Autumn using duck as a filling and had surprisingly great success. However, I hadn’t turned my hand to them and so decided one weekend to give them another whirl, with plenty of time to fit in a family walk whilst the dough was rising.

In the spirit of travel-inspired foods and, quite frankly, building on that success, this past week has been all about Italy  – another of G’s picks as well as Mike’s hopes for a Roman weekend. So far we’ve enjoyed Gnocchi (though I must admit it wasn’t home-made), risotto, pizza, arancini di riso, and pasta on different nights and with plenty of enthusiasm from even my pickiest diner.

I’m not quite sure where next week’s travels will take us, but it’s been fun and an entertaining alternative so far to the same old dishes that I seem to cook week after week.

The Power of Sunflowers

Nothing brightens up a gloomy day like a beautiful sunflower. Tall, majestic and reaching for the sun, its bright yellow colour is sure to cheer up even the darkest of moments. There really is just something intrinsically cheery about this flower to my mind; but did you know just how powerful sunflowers can be?

I am, of course, not talking about the flower itself, but rather the incredible Hidden Disabilities Sunflower scheme, launched in 2016 in response to a query from Gatwick Airport as to how to better its help to travellers passing through its doors and since adopted by numerous airports, supermarkets and other stores and businesses across the UK as well as slowly being recognised worldwide. The scheme uses bright green lanyards covered with sunflowers to indicate that the wearer has a hidden disability and therefore might need additional support, time or space to use that particular facility. All done in a subtle yet visible way.

We hadn’t engaged with the sunflower scheme previously, but given G’s recent challenges with panic attacks and anxiety as well as M’s ongoing health issues and his own anxieties when it comes to travelling with his medicines and foods, the time finally seemed right to give the sunflower lanyards a go during our Christmas trip to New York. I requested them through the Heathrow airport website and was delighted with how promptly they arrived with us with no hassle. They formed a part of the big reveal on Christmas day and both children were wonderfully willing to wear them as we travelled with G having to be reminded to remove hers once we reached our hotel in NYC.

The support given throughout the airport was fantastic and extremely thoughtfully and carefully given. The Virgin Atlantic staff at check-in approached Mike and I to see what additional help we might need, but didn’t ask questions in front of either G or M. Our journey through security was remarkably easy as the airport security staff opened a new lane for us to go through without comment and were then careful to minimise the examination of M’s medicines and the food that we were having to carry with us. I was impressed with just how well all the staff working at Heathrow appeared to have been trained and how they offered us help and support without making a fuss.

The only problem encountered was that M found the material of the lanyard uncomfortable to wear, complaining it irritated his neck, so instead I attached it to his backpack, which made it less easy to spot on a first glance. I’m sure that he will not be the only person who will struggle with this because of sensory issues and so was glad to be able to give some constructive feedback to what is otherwise a fantastic scheme. Our sunflowers were unquestionably powerful during our Boxing Day adventures and will no doubt be something we make use of again the next time we travel.

Our Virgin Atlantic Experience

There’s been a lot of criticism across social media over the last few months about the attitude of Virgin Atlantic towards passengers with food allergies on their flights, in particular relating to those travelling with nut allergies. Now, I can’t comment on how they perform in those situations as we are fortunate to have no known nut allergies, though truthfully M hasn’t had a peanut in years, so we wouldn’t know if he is allergic or not. However, I was interested to see how they would do when it came to the allergy requirements of G and M, especially given our amazing experience when we flew with them to Florida in 2014.

Our first challenge was having some safe milk for M to drink for breakfast in the Heathrow airport lounge. Unlike the fantastic V-room at Gatwick, who stocked B-free bread for toast and brought in 2 cartons of rice milk just for M and G, the Heathrow lounge was less able to help and seemingly less willing to try, simply saying that their staff wouldn’t be able to bring the rice milk through security, so it was up to us to provide it if we could. I was extremely frustrated by this response when I received it, but rather than sit and moan about their inability to be as helpful as I would have liked, instead decided to contact M’s consultant at our local hospital to ask if he would write an updated medical letter stating that we needed to carry a number of safe food items through security for M. Less than 2 weeks after my request, 2 copies of that letter landed through our door and we were easily able to walk through security with the carton of rice milk in our hand luggage without issue once the letter had been seen. I always recommend carrying medical letters and copies of prescriptions when you travel and this experience proved once again, just how valuable that can be.

Despite that rocky start, I hoped things could only improve and as we had booked our complete holiday through Virgin, I had already asked that notes be added to our booking to state that both children had food allergies. I also updated our booking confirmation online with a request that G and M had the gluten-free meals and followed that up with an email noting that both also needed to be dairy-free if possible. I mentioned that M ideally needed to avoid egg and soya if it was at all possible, but knew this was a lot to ask and simply leaned on the truism that you never know what’s possible until you ask.

The meals that arrived with us for both flights were both gluten- and dairy-free, but included a couple of items for M that contained a small amount of egg. This time there was no mix up with meals going to the wrong seats and whilst the meals offered were not exactly what G would have chosen, M tucked in wherever he could. As always both of their backpacks, and mine, were well-stocked with some safe snacks to supplement what was provided and so we were able to muddle through quite successfully.

 

Our Virgin Atlantic experience is one that I would definitely count as a success and neither child, M in particular, suffered any fallout from what they ate on the flights. Not only were the cabin crew diligent with what snacks and drinks they offered to them, but they were also fantastic in helping us celebrate G’s 16th birthday for just a little bit longer and in great style, with a visit to the cockpit for both children on our flight to New York and a birthday present of some “lounge wear” (pyjamas to you and me) and some chocolate on the way home.