My long awaited vacation to London and Paris was planned for early May (2006) so I had less than four months (after my Celiac dx) to figure out how exactly to take the trip, and remain healthy while doing so. I'd heard rumors of England being very Celiac friendly but Paris is the home of the delightfully gluten laden croissant - how the heck could I go there and eat safely? Celiac message boards were of no help whatsoever - most people suggested I cancel my trip actually. I think someone said 'there is no way you can eat gluten free in Paris'. Obviously I took that as a challenge, so my quest for a game plan to take and enjoy my trip began.
I'd recently signed up on the Celiac listserv - it's a great way to get help from others living the gluten free life. It was people on the list that saved the day. Several fellow list members were also planning trips to Paris, and one lady from Chicago would be back from her trip before I left. She was an absolute lifesaver! She not only provided me with a list of places she ate safely all over Paris, she also reassured me that gluten free in Paris was not only doable - it was much easier than eating in the US gluten free. But how could that be? I really don't have an answer for that question - even after finding out it's true personally. It is what it is. Simply put - Paris is the least Celiac friendly city in all of Europe and they are years ahead of the US on this issue - period.
For the trip I printed and laminated some free gluten free dining cards in English, Italian and French. I should have taken every language card available since both London and Paris offered so many ethnic cuisines but I did fine eating safely all over both cities. Only two of our meals were pre-planned before leaving town - afternoon tea at The Dorchester Hotel and one dinner in Paris, accross from Notre Dame, where the Chef's wife was a Celiac. We ate every meal out the entire trip - well I did have to take my own meal on Delta which didn't offer a gluten free meal option at the time - and I never once reacted (for me that's bloating or a serious stomach ache) to my food. I never 'got glutened' as we say. I'd be very afraid to attempt such a feat in the US.
I think the fact that I'd been to Paris once before (unplanned 20 hour layover) did help since I'd had a 'real' croissant and French bread. Somehow, knowing how great both those things were didn't tempt me to cheat on the diet. I could not afford to get sick on vacation. The biggest mistake I made was packing a backpack full of food - nuts, dried fruit, pretzels, crackers, energy bars - anything I could think of. You name it - it was shelf stable and gluten free, it was in my backpack. The crackers and salad dressing packets came in handy at times but most of the food came right back home with us. I ate cheese in Paris three meals a day and my crackers were the perfect accompianment for that. That's the only snack I ate most of. I didn't put a dent in my stash of pretzels, energy bars or anything else I took.
In London there is a grocery store called Sainsburys. They have a gluten free product line that is somewhat similar to Hostess items in the states. It seemed much more healthy but as it's shelf stable, it does contain perservatives. I bought a few boxes of tiny gluten free loaf cakes to supplement my breakfast in London and managed to get one box of loaves to Paris on the train. I should have bought much more stuff at Sainburys and brought it home. There is nothing like this product line made in the US - that I've found anway. If you're ever in England, I'd suggest you look for a Sainbury (or Tesco) and stock up yourself, on all the gluten free delights that we can't get here.
I know this post is long and for that I apologize but I have to make one more very improtant point. I never had to settle for a bland, plain meal in either London or Paris. The most uninspired meal I had was actually one I'd packed for the Delta flight - a turkey sandwich, chips and fruit. But for breakfast I'd packed bacon, and egg, cheese, crackers and fruit and when the other passengers got a whif of my bacon, they all wanted what I had. Delta served a green bananna and a hard, cold roll for breakfast on that flight...lol! I ate like a Celiac queen during my travels and you can too. It takes some research and planning but it's oh so worth it! Safe and tasty gluten free travels everyone!!!
Monday, September 17, 2007
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