Train stations, airports, highways. Those in between places. The hours you spend waiting in travel purgatory. You really need something to look forward to. And that something is food.
Waiting increases appetite (I’m sure that is a scientific fact). Early morning alarms, taxi drivers who don’t pick you up, public transport strikes, heart pounding sprints with heavy suitcases. All this stress releases your cortisol hormones, which in turn taps into your energy stores. To cut a long story short, your metabolism increases and that’s why your stomach is growling for attention.
You’ve either got hours to kill at the train station or only 10 minutes before you board a flight. Or perhaps you’re bleary-eyed on a highway filled with Italians who whiz up behind you like Formula One drivers. Besides all this, you’re vegan and a packet of potato crisps just isn’t going to cut it.
But in Italy, it’s your lucky (vegano panino) day.
Rome Termini Train Station – Chef Express
Catching a train for the first time to another Italian city can create fits of anxiety. Perhaps this is because you missed your train once before and had a hefty argument about it with your travel buddy (aka husband). So this time, you arrive ultra early – without breakfast, but more detrimentally, coffee.
Finding Chef Express was a godsend. This café franchise serves soy cappuccinos (they’re more like lattes) and vegan panini (deliciously oily grilled veggie sandwiches). If you’re not quite ready for pranzo at 8am, grab a flaky melt-in-the-mouth vegan cornetto (croissant). You’ll be glad you arrived at the station early. The smugness you’ll feel from enjoying a perfect vegan Italian breakfast - perfetto!
Rome Tiburtina Train Station - Numbs Cafe
After mixing up your platforms and missing your train, you need caffeine. An espresso shot (un café) really is the best Roman baptism a traveller can have but sometimes a soy coffee just hits the spot. It probably won’t be near the standard of your Sydney or Melbourne soy latte, but when in Rome, you don’t go expecting the Opera House, do you? So gratefully you can enjoy your cappuccino di soya at the bustling Numbs café whilst enjoying the performance that unfolds at the bar.
Turin Porto Nuovo Train Station
You are in for a vegan treat at this unexpected gem of a station. You’ll find artisan chocolate store, Venchi – the perfect place to buy a souvenir or two for yourself and maybe one for family back home. A plethora of dark chocolate (fondente) options, including Fondente Nougatine – made with caramelised hazelnuts, a speciality of the Piedmont region.
After spoiling your sweet tooth, you may have to spoil it a little more with a Veggy Cornetto vegan ice cream at the Magnum ice cream store. For something a little extra special, pop into the Feltrinelli Express bookstore and peruse the impressively stocked shelves of vegan cookbooks.
Highway Rest Stops – Autogrill
You’re stressed. The cortisone is pumping through your body and your skin erupts with sweat. Who drives like this? The Italians do. Because they are fuelled by the best thing out there – Italian food. You can get more than car fuel in the highway rest stops across the country. Stations such as Autogrill are foodie paradises. You believe there will only be chocolate bars and rows of sickly sweet soft drinks.
But that panic of driving on the opposite side of the road in a manual car on an Italian highway will slip away as you realise an Italian petrol station is something rather special. Heavenly. Order an espresso coffee at the bar, knock it back and get ready to buzz.
In their mini supermarket, snack on some crunchy fennel-infused taralli biscuits and grab some pasta and marinated artichokes for later. If you’re lucky, there might be a separate restaurant where you can settle in with a soothing bowl of Penne Arrabiata. Buonissima!
Milan Malpensa Airport – Chef Express
With only minutes to spare after a strangely smooth train-hopping experience from Venice, you’re ready to eat. You’ll have no expectations of the airport beyond a hole in the wall shop of crisps and lollies. But you’ll be given the kiss of fortune with the cheerful lights of Chef Express materialising like an oasis to your hungry belly. With fruit salad, vegan pastries and chunky vegano panino – you will be a happy little veganite.
In true Italian style, a dull experience can be turned into a joyful one if there’s good food involved. Even in train stations and airports. Grazie Italia!