Tag Archives: travelling Italy

You know you’re an Allergy Mum when…

355984d2b047913f4da5f746a1d1dd4f

I often flick through those “You know you’re a…” memes and have a quiet giggle to myself. I love the funny images that reflect the reality of a certain situation and I’m happy to admit that I do have a sense of humour about the jokes that poke gentle fun at the world’s response to the seemingly meteoric rise in food allergies in the past few years. In my opinion, and I willingly accept there will be many who don’t agree with me, life’s too short to not be able to laugh a little and find humour in what can be incredibly challenging situations. I know how difficult life with allergies can be and that ability to smile in the face of adversity is often what gets me through the hardest of times.

The truth is that when you’re an allergy parent you never really get the day off, which is why I found myself having to write this post in the midst of relaying tales of our recent trip to New York. It was a holiday to celebrate my milestone birthday and yet, just as I did when we had our short trip to Italy last year, I found myself snapping photos right, left and centre img_3430whenever I came across any food or drink that would be suitable for either of the children. The thing is that for once in my life I wasn’t actively looking for safe food options, but the discovery of that first gluten-free sandwich triggered a level of excitement that would be completely incomprehensible to anyone other than those walking the very same journey that we do. And no sooner had I discovered that first little gem, than I started looking everywhere to see just how well G and M would be catered for should we find ourselves in the Big Apple in the next few years.

Our trip to see the most well-known lady of the USA was also the site of this unexpected windfall in meeting dietary requirements. Having climbed our way to the top of the Statue of Liberty, we headed on to Ellis Island, where we decided to stop for lunch before exploring everything on offer in this former immigration inspection station. We had opted for a burger each as it was a cold and wintry February day and whilst Mike was placing our order at the counter, I took to the fridges to pick out our drinks. img_1449There, nestling amongst the other cold food options available, was this amazing gluten-free ham and swiss cheese roll and I was so impressed that I just had to take a snap. I’ve commented so many times on how difficult it can be to locate the gluten-free offering in cafes and coffee shops in the UK, so to discover this one so prominently on display and clearly labelled was just fantastic. Obviously, I really can’t comment on whether it tasted good or not, though I can assure you that the burgers Mike and I had were delicious, but to even have the option so readily available was a real breath of fresh air.

From that point on, my eagerness to see what other allergy-friendly offerings were available was back to its normal level and whilst I didn’t actively seek out restaurants that could serve freefrom alternatives, I kept my Allergy Mum eagle eyes on red alert to see what I could spot on our travels around this vibrant city. Our quick stop at Eataly to find a drink and small snack after a long afternoon at the 9/11 Memorial museum revealed some sheep’s milk and cheese for those looking for dairy-free alternatives, but disappointingly we couldn’t spot any of the gluten-free goodies we had unearthed on our Italian trip last year.

I didn’t spot many allergy-friendly menu items as we ate out in several of the many restaurants on offer, but we were delighted to spot a couple of gluten-free options at what was, without a doubt, my favourite restaurant of the trip. The fantastic Ellen’s Stardust Diner is a 50s themed diner that combines classic all-American dishes with amazing live entertainment. As you sit to enjoy your meal, you are serenaded by your talented waiter or waitress and their fellow servers. The staff members are all looking to break onto Broadway whilst working at the diner, which understands not only their need to supplement their income and take further performance classes, but also allows them to accept those last-minute audition opportunities whenever they appear. The food is good, but it’s the staff who really make this a dining experience like no other. Discovering a couple of gluten-free meals was a real treat, though I’m not sure they could really cater for the more complicated needs of a certain young member of our household.

However, our best finds came on a very wet, grey and miserable Monday afternoon as we trudged across the city towards the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum. We needed to grab a light lunch before we reached our final destination and, as Mike had been hankering for a proper bagel New York-style, stopped at 2 unassuming locations to find what we had been looking for. As well as eventually finding a great deli serving some delicious lunch foods, we also discovered a veritable Aladdin’s cave of freefrom goodies. From the unbelievable number of allergy-friendly cereals, bread, frozen foods and milks on sale at the impressively named Food Emporium on West 43rd Street and the added delights of camel milk and coconut or almond milk ice cream at Sunac Natural Market on West 42nd Street, there was enough to satisfy the cravings of even the pickiest of allergy tourists. There may not have been a huge variety of options for M, but we did find some great and different types of rice for him and I know G would have been hard pressed to choose from the wide selection of gluten- and dairy-free foods that we found between these 2 great spots.

And so, in the tradition of all those Allergy parent memes that are out there….

You know you’re an Allergy Mum when your holiday photo album looks like this!

 

A European approach to Allergy-friendly food

IMG_0515[1]Given our Italian break was courtesy of a competition win through the Allergy and Free From Show and Dr Schär, it didn’t come as any surprise that there were several gluten-free items available at the amazing Vigilius Mountain Resort. However, what we didn’t expect were the allergy-friendly offerings we discovered from the minute we arrived at Munich airport and these were the things that possibly impressed us the most. Mike and I had a 2-hour wait in Munich before the shuttle-bus arrived to take us to the hotel. It wasn’t really long enough to venture into the town itself, but gave us more than enough time to explore the airport and its shops. I was particularly keen to see if I could spot any of the German delicacies featured on the Munich episode of Paul Hollywood’s City Bakes and was delighted to be able to snap a quick photo of freshly made pretzels to show M when we got home.

IMG_0516[1]Having exhausted most of the shopping opportunities available to us, we decided to take a quick whiz around the small supermarket before heading off to meet the bus. You can only imagine my surprise and absolute delight when we stumbled upon this fixture filled with dairy-free alternatives, including the all-important rice milk that is now a staple in our household. There was a slightly smaller unit with an array of gluten-free products too and browsing the store’s shelves and fridges, I was able to pick out with relative ease other allergy-friendly foods. I think what impressed me the most was this was a small supermarket at the airport. Not some major out-of-town hypermarket, but somewhere where travellers would stop to pick up a few essentials before heading on to their final destination. Obviously I can’t comment on what would be found in larger stores around Germany, but this bodes well for what I can only imagine you might be able to buy. We have had mixed success in finding safe foods for both M and G whilst on our holidays in the past and this summer will be travelling back to Portugal for the first time since M’s diet became so restricted. I can only hope we find as good a selection as we stumbled across in Munich.

TIMG_0552[1]he Vigilius resort is owned by Ulrich Ladurner, who is also the founder and president of the Dr Schär group and so it comes as no surprise that every meal has gluten-free options available if wanted. Breakfasts consist of an amazing buffet containing just about everything you could conceivably want – cereals, pastries, fresh fruit, cold meats, fruit juices, smoothies, cooked breakfasts and cheeses. There was a separate section for the gluten-free choices and I was pleased to see that soya milk, local goats milk and cheese and dairy-free chocolate sauce were available too. Our evening meals at the resort were delicious and despite our initial plans to visit Lana for dinner on a couple of evenings, Mike and I ended up choosing to stay in the hotel and eat in their restaurants. There are 2 restaurants at Vigilius: the delightful Stube Ida serving regional dishes and wine, and the more formal Restaurant 1500 with exquisite and interesting menu choices. The menus were clearly annotated to show which dishes could be made gluten-free and gluten-free bread was also available on request. We enjoyed every meal we had there, and whilst we didn’t choose to eat the “Variation of Carrots” for our main course – Tartar of carrots, carrot-ginger cream, crunchy carrot peel and carrot spaghetti with curry and carrot gel – ,IMG_0539[1]the “Herbs of the neighbour” dessert – Herb cookies, herb chocolate ganache, hay Chantilly, camomile Panna cotta and lavender ice cream – was phenomenal, even if the occasional thought did flash through my mind that it was a little like eating a bowl of pot pourri! We chose to drink regional wines with our dinners, grateful to receive recommendations from the serving staff, who introduced us to some that have quickly become new favourites.

IMG_0637[1]In comparison, our lunchtimes were spent at various of the many gasthauses in the mountains surrounding the resort, where we chose meals that were equally delicious, but much simpler dishes than those we enjoyed for dinner. We frequently opted to share platters of local products, such as fennel bread, speck, goats cheeses and other cooked meats and of course, washed these down with a glass of local beer. Friends have told me that eating gluten-free in Italy is relatively easy and our experiences would suggest that to be true as we found a gluten-free section to a surprisingly extensive menu in a small, remote gasthaus at the top of Monte San Vigilio. I have to confess that we didn’t put these allergy-friendly options to the test as we relished the opportunity to eat “normally” without M and G around, but Italy has definitely become a potential destination for us in the future.

IMG_0557[1]Our final foodie surprise was on our way back to Munich, at what was advertised as the “last service station before Austria.” The journey to the resort on the Monday had been non-stop, no toilet breaks or opportunity to stretch our legs even once during the 4 hour trip. However, thanks to the driver of our return journey, who evidently considered himself to be the Michael Schumacher of the public transport world, we somehow managed to save time and were allowed to stop for 20 minutes near lunch-time. As we wandered around the service station looking for something quick and easy to eat before we climbed back on board, I also kept my eyes open for any last-minute goodies I could pick up as small presents for M and G from our holiday. Amongst the bumper-sized packs of pasta, bottles of olive oil and chocolate bars, I also spotted boxes of gluten-free rice flour cookies sitting in plain sight alongside their non allergy-friendly counterparts, something I’ve never seen in a service station in this country. Our holiday was a real eye-opener when it comes to how this part of Europe tackles the matter of allergy-friendly foods and has made us more confident to spread our wings and travel there with the children when time allows.

Vigilius Mountain Resort

IMG_0685[1]Our retreat for those four days away was the beautiful Vigilius resort, 1,200 metres up the Monte San Vigilio in the Italian Alps and only accessible by a 7 minute cable car ride. Mike and I had arrived in Lana, the small South Tyrolean town at the base of the mountain, at around 5pm and headed immediately to the cable car station, where we waited patiently for it to be fixed before we headed up to the hotel. It had been an early start and a long day of travelling, but as we stepped out into the idyllic atmosphere of this peaceful location, all the stresses and strains gently started to slip away. IMG_0595[1]We were met at the cable car station by one of the hotel staff, who offered to give us a brief tour of all the facilities before booking us a table at one of the restaurants and settling us into our room for the evening.

This is an ecologically friendly and sustainable resort, where neutral colours and careful simplicity create a peaceful retreat from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. The rooms are spacious and open, with stunning views of the mountains – the Dolomites and the Alps – on every side. It took a little getting used to the open plan nature of our room, where the bathroom area and bedroom were separated only by a strategically placed small clay wall that gives a slight nod to a sense of privacy. IMG_0524[1]Every room includes a stereo system, but no televisions, though they and DVD players can be provided on request and whilst wi-fi is provided free of charge, it is switched off by 11pm every night creating the opportunity to be as technology-free as you want during your stay. The facilities include 2 restaurants, a library, inside and outside seating areas as well as eternity pool, whirlpool and spa. It really is a place designed for relaxation and indulgence in equal measure.

Our days were wonderfully lazy as long and late breakfasts were followed by time spent alongside the pool or exploring the local area. On 2 separate days we took the single chair lift up to the top of the mountain and followed the well-marked trails to discover astounding panoramic vistas, remote churches and wonderful gasthauses where we enjoyed simple lunches of the local specialities – speck, cheese, fennel bread  – and the occasional glass of beer. We also took the cable car back down to Lana, where we spent some time searching for postcards and goodies for M and G as well traipsing between some of the 40 churches and monasteries to be found in this vibrant Italian market town. IMG_0678[1]This area is bilingual with all signs and menus written in both Italian and German – that 8-week Italian course in the 6th form finally came in handy – and we found most of the people keen to practise whatever English they could.

The resort itself offers a range of activities to its guests, including hiking, mountain biking and other fitness programs, though Mike and I only watched an archery session from afar. We did, however, spend a lot of our time in the pool, sauna, steam room and spa, enjoying the peace and quiet of the mobile-free area as we swam in the eternity pool and relaxed in the indoor and outdoor whirlpools. Thanks to my Mum, I was also able to pamper myself one afternoon with a peel, wrap and full body massage. Two hours later, I rejoined Mike poolside before we headed back to our room to prepare for our complimentary evening aperitif before a late dinner in one of the fantastic restaurants.

Without a doubt, Mike and I enjoyed a fabulous time at the Vigilius Mountain Resort and left feeling more relaxed and rested than we have in a long time. The hotel staff were friendly, polite and helpful and made our stay a wonderful experience. It was a great opportunity to spend time together, without the pressure of having to cope with the everyday juggling act that is the constant needs of the children, work and home. We wouldn’t hesitate to go back to Vigilius again should the opportunity arise and I would love to explore more of the surrounding towns of the South Tyrol.

*Disclaimer – Our 4-day stay at the Vigilius Mountain Resort was courtesy of a competition prize won at the Allergy & Free From Show Liverpool and sponsored by Dr Schar UK. The views expressed in this review are entirely my own and those of Mike.

The Italian Job

Sometimes you just need some time off; a week away from it all; an opportunity to have a break from the everyday, to just rest and relax and be. The thing is that that is hard enough to achieve when you’re a parent and near on impossible when you’re a special needs parent. The stress of leaving your chronically ill child with someone else, even when accompanied by a small novel’s worth of detailed instructions about what to do in every possible and conceivable situation, threatens to overwhelm and can seemingly be insurmountable for a day or two, let alone more than that. Mike and I are lucky that my Mum lives close enough to give us some nights off during school holidays, but those days usually mean longer hours at work for me as I attempt to make up time missed for hospital appointments with M and include only the occasional trip out to the cinema or for dinner somewhere where we aren’t tied to the essentials of chicken, rice and cucumber of our everyday menus.

Last December, in fact the day before M was admitted to GOSH for those disastrous food challenges, I received a Facebook message out of the blue from one of my fellow FABED Mums:

“Is that you that has won a trip to Italy with schar? Saw Twitter post? Congratulations x”

and have to confess that at that point I had absolutely no idea what she was talking about! A quick unscheduled peek at my Twitter feed and a long look at my e-mails later, I was stunned to learn that she was indeed right and I had won a 4-night stay in Italy thanks to gluten-free producer Dr Schar and the Allergy and Free from Show, Liverpool. It has taken a little while to put all the necessary pieces in place, but finally, last week, 6 full months since I first received that message, Mike and I left G and M in my Mum’s more than capable hands and jetted off for a much-needed break from it all.

IMG_0619[1]

Getting to that point did take some effort and there were last-minute wobbles before we finally left. It took an unbelievable amount of time to confirm the dates for our hotel stay due to the relaxed attitude of the Italian hotel staff and our flights were researched and scheduled by me once I knew the preferred airports for us to travel to and from. Two nights before we left, Mike questioned whether we really could go abroad given M’s current ill-health, but we trust my Mum implicitly and knew we needed to take some time for ourselves. That’s something that my Mum supported fully as she knows that reality as well as we do due to my T1D diagnosis at age 9. The truth is that you should never under-estimate the impact of a sick child on a marriage: the focus naturally shifts from each other to that child and home life inevitably revolves around what they need in every waking moment. In our household, those needs have not just been during the day, but at nighttime too as M’s sleep issues have been an ongoing problem that we continue to struggle with and every time we seem to be making some headway with it, something happens to set us back to where we were before. His broken leg has been no exception and has added to that regression as it has seen us playing musical beds with G moving to M’s cabin bed and Mike to G’s room to give M the comfort he needed to enable him to sleep in the weeks following the accident. The physical strain of looking after M with his broken leg has taken its toll on me, leaving me exhausted and Mike and I have had little time to spend with each other without interruption.

IMG_0512[1]

Our plane is the one on the left, which looked tiny when seen next to the Easyjet one also waiting for passengers

Last Monday passed in something of a blur and proved to be a long day of travelling with more than its fair share of minor hiccups along the way, just to keep us on our toes. We were up at 3.30am to reach our regional airport before a 6.30am flight to Munich, followed by a couple of hours waiting at the airport before our shuttle bus arrived. Then there was the 30 minutes of pure stress as we failed to connect with the shuttle bus due to the unclear instructions as to where to wait that were written on the booking form and my tears of panic as Mike desperately tried to find a helpful German airport worker to help him communicate with the bus company, before all was finally resolved and the driver turned around to pick us up. IMG_0522[1]The following 4.5 hours in a minibus without functioning air-conditioning and unable to communicate with said driver due to my lack of German and his lack of English was interesting, though we drove through some amazing countryside and realised that 4 countries in 1 day (UK, Germany, Austria and Italy) was a record even for us. We finally reached Lana, our Italian destination, only to discover that the cable car to the hotel – the only way to reach it – had broken down and we were destined to wait for an indeterminate amount of time as the statement that “..it might be 5 minutes, it could be 30…” was accompanied by an unconcerned shrug. But, we got there in the end and, having reached what is an amazing resort, it was, without a doubt, all worth it in the end.