Wednesday, July 29, 2009

I Survived A Three Week Vacation and Maintained my Weight

It's Summer time which equals vacation time for a lot of us. I took my vacation early this year. I saved up and took my dream vacation to Europe for three weeks this past spring.

3 Weeks

4 Countries

7 Cities

I was panicking about my diet and how I would stay fit while I was over there. My biggest fear was that I would come back with an additional 5- 10 pounds of weight on me.

However, I was happy to discover after the vacation that my weight was exactly the same as before I left for vacation. My vacation was loaded with gelato, pastries, chocolates, cakes, rich creamy soups, pastas, wine... and I was able to maintain my weight through the trip.

So looking back I guess this is what I did to maintain:

1. WALK!!!

I walked very long distances every day. Before you think about hoping on the subway or hailing a cab, maybe think of the things you will discover if you walked the distance between subway stops... you won't see all the cute shops when riding on a subway, and you'll blow by them in an expensive cab ride.

In one particular instance after over indulging in delicious ice cream at a shop in Potsdamer Platz in Berlin...
Caffe e Gellato in Berlin

we took a long enjoyable walk through the Tiergarten, a large foresty park in Berlin that is shady and very relaxing to stroll through....

2. Take bike tours!

Biking in Paris

The Sis and I did bike tours in every city. She's huge into cycling, I'm an occasional bike rider, but definitely a spinning junkie (before I changed up my routine). Being stuck in a fish tank of a tour bus on a beautiful day was not my ideal way of exploring a new place. The bike tours were the best way to see all the major sites of the city and learn the history. We booked tours with Fat tire bike tours. If you're not big into cycling don't worry! You ride on beach cruisers, the routes are safe and bike friendly, and the biking is not strenuous - you move at a relaxed pace. But the point is you're still moving!

3. Remember Not to Over Eat at Every Meal

I can't recall a moment where I over ate to the point that I felt too full to move. I think European restaurants on a whole do not serve extremely large portions. Multiple courses were usually the norm and being that the sister and I were kind of trying to get by on the cheep we survived off an Entree usually. We rarely ever ordered an appetizer. You'll spend enough on water and other drinks anyway.

4. Try your best to stay hydrated. I'm spoiled where I live. Our tap water is drinkable. The tap water doesn't always taste very good in Europe (in Rome it was the worst), and if it tastes strange I stay away. Keeping myself hydrated was a bit of a problem, buy some bottles of water to keep in your hotel room. But don't drink too much because public restrooms are not readily available.

So here's an over view of my vacation....

Barcelona! -

In Barcelona Tapas were a fun meal to share, the portions were small so an order of three or four is enough for a light lunch the split with friends.

Coffee's are not the "grande" portions we get over here at Starbucks. Just a small tea sized cup, but it's perfect. That means less sugar and less cream...less calories and less caffeine to upset my stomach. I could actually enjoy coffee because it wasn't in a big gulp sized cup.

Sandwiches were on long narrow pieces of french style bread, however most of them were loaded with salty hams, which I'm not a big fan of, so I just went with a cheese sandwich usually.

The Catalan style bread, which is offered at most restaurants is delicious too. It's a simple recipe of ripe tomatoes and olive oil spread on toast like butter.

And the sangria... oh the sangria. So tasty!!! One pitcher is never enough. I also enjoyed the local beer, Estrella Damm (the star of Barcelona!) try it with Schweppes lemon they call it a Clara, I drank those all night long...mmm so refreshing! Also don't forget to order a few glasses of Cava it's a Spanish sparkling wine made in Catalonia.

So after all that delicious eating and drinking, take a nice long walk in the Barri Gòtic (the Gothic Quarter). There's winding rambling narrow streets loaded with beautiful architecture, Gothic churches and shops, you'll discover something new at every corner.

Or perhaps you prefer the modern and bizarre architecture of Gaudi (I think he was on drugs :))
Park Güell sits atop a hill. We took the subway to the closest stop but then it was still a nice long walk up a hill to get to the park. Once you get there enjoy a nice relaxed stroll through this architectural fantasy land garden over looking the city.

If you'd like to check out another view of the city, there are cable cars that run out over the Mediterranean Sea. All the pick up locations are located on the water front. However one of them is located at a park atop a step hill, Montjuïc, which is worth the steep walk up for the view alone.

Paris -In Paris there is so much to see! After a meal you will have plenty of sites to walk to.

If you're standing in line for the Eiffel Tower, make sure you get in the line for the stairs not for the elevator. If you don't have a bad heart or bad knees or some other medical condition that prevents your from breaking a sweat then you should be climbing those stairs! I know it feels like it will never end, but by the time you get to the second level the view will be worth it! And you just got a good work out!

We went to the Eiffel Tower just as it was beginning to get dark. The lines were much shorter than during the day, but the views were spectacular. We saw Paris as the sun set and the lights came on.

I LOVE ART, so my trip to the Louvre was like a comic book nerds trip to comic con. Every where I looked was another master piece. I flipped out every time I spotted a painting I studied in Art History...which was pretty often. The Louvre houses a collection of 35,000 works of art. I could have spent my entire stay in Paris and still not have gotten my fill there!

I even dragged the Sis through all the European paintings in search of ONE Vermeer painting...I had to wander through several galleries, but when I got there all that was on the wall was a plaque that said the painting was being restored. So I have a picture of me pointing to the plaque with a big pout on my face. Vermeer Fail!  The point I'm trying to make though is that we spent all day constantly moving around during our trip to the Louvre.

A little advice, order your tickets to the Louvre in advance, and take the Metro to the entrance underground the lines are shorter. But there will always be a line unless you show up on May 1st like we did one morning and the Museum is closed because that is the French "labor day". Be prepared for a huge crowd if you're looking to get close to the Mona Lisa.

Do the Eiffel tower in the evening, lines are shorter and you get the see the city as the sun sets.

And if the view at the Eiffel Tower wasn't enough...if you'd like to see another spectacular view of the city check out the area of Montmartre. Guess what it's on a hill, so that means more steps to climb!

Make sure you take a trip outside the city to Versailles. We booked a bike tour of the Chateau. The grounds are huge so you see a lot more of them if you bike. We took our bikes on public trains out to the town to explore the market at Versailles which is definitely worth checking out. You can get anything you crave at the market. Fresh produce, meats, cheeses, bread, wine, a delicious hot seasoned potato dish mixed with ham and lets not forget the pastries. Then we biked over to the Chateau for a tour of the grounds and various little summer palaces. We took a break for a picnic of the goodies we got at the market over looking the Chateau before biking back to the main palace to explore the inside.

^-- Biking in the town of Versailles.

Our picnic spread: baguette and a loaf of bread, strawberries, raspberries, 3 different cheeses, lunch meats of ham and salami, potatoes, 4 different types of pastries, and oh the wine. We ate like royalty (pre-revolution of course ;)) it was probably the largest and most delicious meal we ate in Paris.

Yeah I know what you're thinking... that's a whole lot of food, but hell we were on vacation! We were eating lunch while looking at the Palace where Marie Antoinette lived! You have to live a little sometimes! Plus the food was all fresh, not fried or processed and we biked/walked it off afterward.

Ich bin ein Berliner! -

In Berlin the food was delicious and the prices were even better. Heavy creamy potato or asparagus soup, wiener schnitzel, sausages, chocolates, cakes, gourmet ice cream... you name it I probably ate it. I liked the food there best as you can see.

Oh and can we talk about the beer for a hot minute. Hefeweizen is simply the name for wheat beer... I love wheat beer, it's delicious (it's whole wheat does that make it more nutritious too?? ;)) and we drank a lot of it. If you're drinking a lighter beer you're probably gonna end up having a piss race at some point in the evening reminiscent of your college days.

So we worked all those heavy meals off by long walks around the city, walks through the tiergarten, dancing at clubs, and our hostel provided jogging maps and ipods so I even went for a jog one morning. I ended up doing a three mile route that took me around museum island... what a beautiful view!

Ciao Bella! -

In Italy portions of pasta are not huge. The American version of Italian food serves the large portions of pasta smothered in spaghetti sauce. In Italy the Primi Plati (first course) is usually pasta and is a not a large dish. They also don't cover the dish with tomato sauce, the sauces are usually light and mixed in with the pasta instead of slathered on top.

The second course on a menu is typically a meat dish. Salads are good in Italy as well (better than Barcelona less frill than Paris, just good ol veggies!), however NONE of the restaurants in Europe served us a salad with a heavy creamy dressing like Ranch or Caesar. The waiters placed a bottle of olive oil and a bottle of red wine vinegar on the table with some salt and pepper and that was your dressing. Consider passing on creamy dressings even when you're not on vacation! They're added wasted calories to your diet!

Typically I was filled with just ordering a first course and a salad.

Warnings about Italian Restaurants!

**A lot of times bread is NOT FREE but they will throw it on the table as if it were. Like at a lot of restaurants in America bread will just appear on your table... you don't ask for it, they just provide it to you. However at the end of the meal there might be a charge for bread per basket on your bill. Ask the server if the bread is included before you dig in to the basket. (Or skip it all together to save on the calories).

**Also many restaurants in Italy will try to sneak in a cover charge simply to sit at the table. Most will have a note about the charge on the menu, but you should ask if there is one before you sit, we were also sidelined with that one as well at the end of an underwhelming over priced meal.

**Tip is included! At the same restaurant that sneak in the cover charge, the server also tried to tell us that tip was not included. Servers in Europe are paid regular wages so tip is NOT necessary. Only a euro or two extra is necessary if the service is good, and in most cases I guarantee that it won't be good.

So watch out when you're in Italy, they know you're tourists and try to take advantage. The dining experience in Italy left a pretty sour taste in my mouth. We did not encounter this problem in any other country though.

Anyway, after that long winded side note. We also spend a night with our relatives who live on the Adriatic coast, and we learned how the regular locals eat.

  • The big meal is at lunch. Bread, a medium size pasta dish with a light tomato sauce with meat and peas, fresh asparagus with lemon and olive oil, and cheeses and lunch meats.
  • Diner was a meal of fresh lettuce, lunch meats, cheeses and a thin pita like bread.
  • Dessert was fresh strawberries drizzled with sugar and lemon juice, topped with fresh whipping cream (no extra sugar added). Even after dessert they scooped out gelato and said it was for digestion.
Then of course there is the fresh wine they get by the barrel load from a local farm... Delicious!

Keeping active in Italy was not hard to do! There is so much to see and the traffic that you will be doing a LOT of walking. The Colosseum, the Forum, the Vatican, the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain and the'll be doing a lot of walking around to find all of these locations.

Word of advice! Tickets for the Vatican museum can be ordered in advance, we went on a Sunday morning with our advanced tickets.

Passes for the Colosseum and the Forum can also be purchased in advance. We did not encounter a line at the Forum, however there was one we went right by at the Colosseum because we had a Roma Pass.

When we left Rome we spend a day in Sienna which is a small town, and everything is walkable there's not point in hailing a cab. After that we were in Florence. You want to walk around Florence there's so much to see and lots of little shops to stumble upon and it's not a huge city. Make sure you take a trip to the Uffizi Gallery to see their incredible collection of Italian renaissance masterpieces (Botticelli, Titian, Da Vinci, Caravaggio... oh my!) and the Academia to see the David. You can do both in a day and you can walk the distance between the two museums.

To get this view we had to climb 414 narrow steps to the very top. You want to do this!! You'll get that fantastic view of the terracotta tiled roof tops of Florence.

So that was my vacation. My weight before I left was exactly the same as when I got back, despite not tracking my calories or going to the gym. Since I've been back I've dropped 15lbs.

My point is that if you go on vacation for one week, two weeks, three weeks, do something to keep yourself active while you're away from home and your routine! Go for a hike in a near by park, rent a bike for an afternoon instead of renting a car, walk instead of taking a cab, take a stroll on the beach, play sand football with the kids, whatever it takes...stay active and do your best not to over eat at every meal! But remember you're still on vacation, it's not the end of the world or your diet if you enjoy a little dessert or a lavish meal!

Dieting does not equal the death of all fun!


Mrs. Vanquish said...

Awesome!! You have been here. near me!! Cool that you posted it! :-))

and I soo love the Pocket-E pics!!!

But next time you have to visit Munich too, is so much nicer than Berlin *cough* ;.)

Team_SixPack said...

LOL I've been told but after coming from Paris, Berlin was a breath of fresh air because it was a lot more affordable there!

I think next year is the 200th anniversary of oktoberfest. I was told that I must go... I'm itching to go back but I gotta save up again.