Rapa Nui (Easter Island) – Honeymoon Part 2

After spending about a week in Bora Bora, my husband and I flew back to the main island of Tahiti for our next adventure.  Like I said in the first honeymoon post, we decided to make it a bucket list trip, and Rapa Nui (Easter Island) was near the top of the list.  Truthfully, this wasn’t our initial plan.  After telling some friends about our Bora Bora plans, they brought up extending our trip since we’d already have flown halfway around the world to get to Bora Bora.  What an incredible idea!!  We looked at a few maps later that night and realized that Rapa Nui was surprisingly close to Bora Bora.  Not only that, but there is a direct flight from Tahiti to Rapa Nui, albeit only once a week.  We could make it work!

We struggled initially in the planning stages, there aren’t many sites that have a lot to offer about planning to visit Rapa Nui.  We ran into some challenges finding a travel agent that could help us as well.  It turns out, not many people actually make it to Rapa Nui each year.  The entire island is approximately the size of Washington, D.C., and though tourism is their number one economic provider, there aren’t a ton of places to stay either.  Thankfully, we were finally put in touch with a great travel agent that locked down our travel, hotel, and excursions within a week of first speaking with us.  I’m not sure we could have pulled this trip off without her!

Having learned a few lessons in Bora Bora, I felt a little better prepared when we touched down in Rapa Nui.  Although the flight was a red eye, LAN Chile really took care of me and had prepared gluten free meals and snacks each time they served food to the other passengers.  This may not seem like such a big deal, but I frequently have to ask for a gluten free snack on international flights.  While airlines are great about getting gluten free meals, they tend to forget about the snacks.  When we arrived at our hotel, the Altiplanico, we were armed with a Spanish pocket dictionary (I suggest the Berlitz Phrase Book & Dictionary for any language) which informed me that my key phrase of the week would be “sin glooten.”  Thanks to our travel agent, the hotel had already been made aware of my dietary needs, and they were prepared to help me order from their menu.

To my delight, Rapa Nui restaurants were full of fresh fish dishes based on their catch of the day.  The locals were incredibly friendly people, that were very happy to work with our struggling Spanish, and understood what “sin glooten” meant!  Thankfully, I never once felt as though I’d been even the slightest bit cross-contaminated.  While we were there, we visited two restaurants more than once because we truly enjoyed their food and surroundings so much.  Although I can’t remember exactly what each of the meals were, I can share with you my thoughts on the restaurants, and a few pictures of my favorite meals from our trip.

Catch of the day from the Altiplanico hotel with mushroom risotto

Catch of the day from the Altiplanico hotel with mushroom risotto

Ceviche

Fresh ceviche, served in a conch shell with a side of rice

Kuki Varua:  This restaurant was located just on the edge of the water in Hanga Roa.  The location was great for people watching, sunsets, and enjoying the island mentality.  We found ourselves here a few times, each visit staying for a longer period of time, and drinking in our surroundings.  Great for their catch of the day offerings and surprising local side dishes (green mashed potatoes and purple potato chips!), I enjoyed every single bite at the Kuki Varua.

Tuna and Mashed Potatoes

Seared and salted tuna with green mashed potatoes (Kuki Varua)

Catch of the Day

Same meal, different day…yes it was that good! (Kuki Varua)

Hetu’u Restaurant:  We stumbled upon this gem while we were walking through the downtown area (Hanga Roa).  The service was very quick, and though they did not have many tables, they certainly seemed to be a more popular spot.  The menu was incredibly diverse, and thankfully included pictures which helped with the language barrier.  The restaurant also had a nice sized wine cellar, which I have to say really drew me in!

Fish in Peanut Sauce

White fish in peanut sauce with a side of potato chips (Hetu’u)

Fish in Caper Sauce

White fish in caper sauce, side of potato chips (Hetu’u)

Open Letter to Resaurants

Majority of the time, I try to bring a lunch to work so I don’t have to deal with the hassle of eating out.  Life happens though, and sometimes I have no other option than running out in search of food near my office.  I have a hard time finding places I trust, instantly cringing anytime I see a restaurant that has bins of ingredients lined up, an instant concern for cross contamination.  But seeing a place that has so many signs about requesting gluten-free gives me hope that I can give somewhere a shot.  I always begin my order by courteously requesting that my server change their gloves, explaining that I am “severely allergic” to gluten.  So why then today, after watching the server carefully take off his gloves, wash his hands and arms, and putting on new gloves would the server then hand my food off to the next person in the chain?  Before I had caught up with my food it had already been contaminated!  Seething as I watched my gluten-free salad poured onto another workers stale gloves to be chopped, I explained the situation and they tossed out my first round of food.  As that server then began to clean his hands, another server attempted to make salad round two for me.  Now explain to me why on earth, after two servers have washed their hands and changed their gloves for me, would a THIRD begin making my salad with OLD GLOVES?!

After throwing out two salads that had been contaminated, I finally had one made by a single person with fresh gloves, but it made me think about the situation as I watched this all unfold.  Under no circumstances would it be acceptable for a server to sneeze on food and serve it to a customer.  So why then, after I’ve carefully explained my situation, do they continue to be so hasty with my food?  I am not on a fad diet, I do not eat gluten-free because it’s trendy.  I eat gluten-free because it’s the only solution to celiac disease!  And when restaurants are careless with my food the following almost always occurs within 30 minutes:

1. I am forced to leave work for the day, feeling too ill to continue.
2. I spend the next few hours curled in the fetal position on my bathroom floor, intermittently vomiting and dealing with diarrhea.
3. I lose all energy, and sleep for hours.
4. I deal with lingering symptoms for the next few days.

It’s not acceptable for me to walk over and casually spray your meal with bacteria; don’t do the same to me by hastily handling my food.  When I tell you I have a severe allergy please take me seriously and know that your actions have very serious consequences to my health!

Kyiv, Ukraine

If you had told me a few years ago that I’d be visiting five countries in a matter of months this year, I probably wouldn’t have believed you.  If you were to have also told me that the unique and beautiful country that I visited over the summer would be in a state of inner turmoil just a few short months later, I probably wouldn’t believe you either.  But here I am, scrolling through the news pictures of the riots in Ukraine, disheartened by the changes in such a short amount of time.

I was so fortunate to be on a project this year that brought me to Kyiv, Ukraine.  I love visiting new places, and couldn’t wait to see another side of Eastern Europe.  However, trying to deal with celiac disease in Ukraine was baptism by fire for me.  I do not speak Ukrainian, nor can I read Cyrillic letters.  I tried to translate “no gluten” on my phone, but it turns out I had to be connected to the internet to access the phrase, and could never quite verify that the translation was actually correct.

The nice thing about European hotels, especially nice ones, is that they usually have a great breakfast spread.  They’ll lay out every food you can imagine that might be considered breakfast.  The Hotel Opera in Kyiv was no exception.  Every morning I ventured down to the restaurant where I was treated to a fresh fruit buffet, and made to order eggs.

Lunches were definitely more of a challenge.  The offices we worked from for the week weren’t in the most popular area for restaurants, and we didn’t have much time to step away from our work for a meal.  We alternated days going to a quick corner stop, and a luncheon restaurant nearby.  I had to take a leap of faith in Ukraine, and go with my gut.  It was a risky chance to take, but I unfortunately hadn’t planned for any other option.  Thanks to the culture, my food didn’t really have any additives, nor did it make me sick during the trip.  I always found the simple meals while we were out, keeping to sausage and sauerkraut or borscht for the most part.

My workload that week kept me from venturing out for dinner, which actually worked out much easier for me.  The hotel restaurant staff understood my concerns about gluten, and were able to help me order my meals each night.  I alternated between ordering room service and meeting my coworkers in the hotel restaurant.  Here are some pictures of my favorite Ukrainian meals.

Quail Breast

Quail Breast Foie Gras with Cabbage and Fried Quail Egg

Borscht

Ukrainian Borscht

Salmon

Salmon with Mashed Potatoes and Asparagus

Travel Tip #1: Breakfast can be your best friend, and usually a guaranteed meal.  Since hotel staff tend to be bilingual and able to better accommodate foreign requests, they’ll be able to answer your gluten free questions.  Fill up early in the day since you may run into challenges for lunch and dinner.

Travel Tip #2: Do research about a city or culture before you go.  Learn what their common dishes are, and what ways you could potentially be contaminated.

Travel Tip #3: Most translation apps on your phone need to be connected to the internet in order to access their language databases (including anything you’ve previously translated). Before you leave for your trip, verify whether or not your app will work in an area without service by attempting to translate a phrase while your phone is in airplane mode.

A little bonus on this post, there have been too many devastating pictures posted of Kyiv riots recently, so I’d like to share a few of mine from earlier last summer that show the country’s true beauty.

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Glutened

As I sat there writing my previous post, I was recovering from my latest glutening.  For anyone that hasn’t heard the term before, “glutening” or being “glutened” refers to any time I’ve accidentally eaten or had my food cross-contaminated with gluten.  I had gone almost a full month without any accidents, yet here I am laying in pain on the couch.  For those of you that are new to the disease, it happens to all of us!  It doesn’t matter how careful you are, or how long you’ve been doing this.  Sometimes things just work out for the worst.

How did I get glutened?  Believe it or not, by eating a gluten free lärabar!  Yesterday marked my first day training for a half marathon with Team in Training, and I’d made myself a delicious veggie omelet when I got home.  My lunch was a helping of leftover sauteed vegetables, and I’d packed two lärabars in my purse just in case.  My husband and I were out visiting the DC Auto Show when I started to get hungry.  Knowing I couldn’t last until dinner, I pulled out one of the lärabars to hold me over.  The last time we’d gone grocery shopping, I picked up the chocolate chip cookie dough flavor (labeled gluten free) because they just looked too good to resist.  I can’t remember the last time I was able to actually enjoy cookie dough!  I had never tried that flavor before, but eagerly opened it as we waited in line to ride a Jeep through an off road course.

About thirty minutes later as we wandered through the luxury car exhibits, some of my initial reactions started to show up.  We each have our own unique reactions which we’ve come to know and hate.  Immediately I knew I’d been glutened, and having not eaten anything else within four hours of the lärabar, it was the only explanation.  After a rough car ride home, I made myself comfortable on our couch for the long haul.  Problem is, I typically lose my appetite when I’m glutened, and I hadn’t had dinner yet.  Gluten makes me feel so awful that it takes a while to get my appetite back.  Knowing I won’t recover any faster if I starve myself, I usually try to find something that’s very bland and settles my stomach.

I’ve since sent an email to the company to find out what’s changed, or how they source their ingredients that could have caused my reaction.  So  far they’ve been responsive and are looking into the production of the bar.  I’ll certainly let you all know what I find out.  I’d like to open this up for comments and thoughts since I’m starting to get some regular readers.  What is the one food you crave or the only thing you can stomach when you’ve been glutened?

For me, it’s plain white rice. Nothing special, but to me it has the same stomach settling effect as plain toast when you were sick as a kid (pre-celiac of course!).

Columbia Firehouse – Alexandria Restaurant Week

I’m a little behind on getting this entry up, but Alexandria Restaurant Week was the week following DC’s, and naturally I had to try out another new place!  I had plans to meet up with a good friend of mine, and she happily agreed to trying somewhere new.  After going through all of the menus, we settled on Columbia Firehouse thanks to their incredible sounding seafood dishes.  I had called a few of the restaurants in advance to see how they reacted to my request for a gluten free restaurant week selection.  Columbia Firehouse was quick to tell me that although they did not have a separate selection for gluten free guests, the chef was very knowledgeable, and could work with me to ensure I had a great meal.  SOLD!

This next part of the reservation was something I wish I’d figured out earlier.  I’m not sure how many people out there are already using Open Table, I used it occasionally, but it’s now become my best preemptive move when making reservations.  Remember my last entry about Bora Bora?  At the end, one of my lessons learned was to notify the resort in advance.  Hint: That concept doesn’t just apply to resorts!  I’ve updated my profile on Open Table to include the following automated special request (which will be sent to the restaurant anytime I make a reservation): “Guest has a severe Gluten allergy, must eat gluten free and restaurant will need to be aware of potential cross-contamination. Thank you!”  It’s short and sweet, and while we all know it isn’t a gluten allergy, the response I get to that message is incredible!

When I arrived at the restaurant, my friend had already been seated and was gushing about how concerned the staff was that they prepare my meal safely.  After realizing the request was for me and not her, they held back further information until I was seated.  Once I was handed my menu, our waiter discussed with me the items that would definitely not be safe.  He then asked what I wanted so he could discuss modifications with the chef.  I don’t know about the rest of you, but I personally prefer ordering items with the least modifications necessary.  It’s the easiest on the kitchen, and has more of a chance to taste the way the chef initially intended.  I wasn’t completely sure what I wanted, so I let the waiter tell me what the most popular and “famous” items on the menu were.  Being a cold day, I settled on the soup of the day, along with their scallops, and a slightly modified apple – pear compote for dessert.

Every last bite of each course was delicious!!!  Not only that, but the staff were so accommodating.  When my friend didn’t want the potatoes that came with her meal, they allowed her to substitute the side with an additional helping of greens without batting an eye.  When her sauteed kale came out, I have to say it looked great!  Open Table’s special requests section was definitely a success.  All future reservations I make will without a doubt include that message 🙂 Now for the fun stuff…pictures of my dinner!

Sweet Potato Soup

Pureed Sweet Potato Soup with Pesto and Cream Garnishes

Seared Day Boat Scallops

Scallops, Shaved Brussels Sprouts, House Cured Bacon, Turban Squash, Mulled Cider Syrup

Spiced Apple & Pear Crisp

Cinnamon-Vanilla Apple and Pear Compote & Ginger Ice Cream (ordered without the Oat Streusel to make the dish gluten free)