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  • Vegan Travel Guide: Amsterdam and Holland

    Amsterdam is a compelling city. Rescued from the sea, Amsterdam sits 2 metres below sea level and is a spider’s web of canals, or Grachten, that delineate the various parts of the city in concentric circles and make it unique and brilliantly easy to navigate. There is 60 miles of canals, 90 islands connected by 1,200 bridges and 400 km of cycle paths. It’s all about the boats and bikes, if you think you’re happily walking along a pavement, you’re probably not.

    Amsterdam was an important port in the Dutch Golden Age of C17th when it was the wealthiest city in the world with an international trading network and an Empire which included ‘New Amsterdam’ (till the British captured it and renamed it ‘New York’ after their grand old Duke).

    There’ so much to see and do in Amsterdam, don’t be put off by the infamous stag/hen do reputation as this can be avoided. The Red Light District focuses the seedy side of the city in one area, albeit a picturesque bit – De Wallen. Aside from the pungent waft of cannabis that pervades most corners, the city is like any other European capital that’s floating on canals and steeped in a fascinating history with unique architecture.

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    Café in the Dam

    The people of Holland don’t embrace the seedy underbelly that Amsterdam is famous for, but they don’t condemn it either. Their “Lee fen laat leven” (live and let live) attitude is born out of and in massive contrast to a strict Puritanical past. The determination of Amsterdammers (or ‘Mokummers’) not judge or condemn but rather to live alongside has resulted in a brilliant, open and tolerant city that today is home to 180 different nationalities.

    Our brief sojourn in Amsterdam took in the Anne Frank House, Van Gogh Museum, pedalos and a boat trip around the historic canals. We watched a PRIDE march roll magnificently by and, of course, circumnavigated the various vegan haunts.

    TerraZen Centre is central but didn’t look about to open any minute soon so we didn’t get to try it.

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    TerraZen in central Amsterdam

    Alchemist Garden: A health food store with seats, was on the list to check out but was also closed when we went.

    Vegabond only opened at 12 but was well worth finding our way back to. Canal side, bright and airy, they had delicious array of food including tofu sausage rolls and a wide variety of sandwiches. The café is combined with a health food shop so we were able to stock up on various forms of tofu – and an incredible almond brie – for the week ahead. The smoothies and cakes couldn’t be resisted but our lunch did cost over 50€.

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    Vegabond Tofu Sausage Rolls

    Moaz: There’s a few of these vegetarian falafel bars around the city and very handy if you’re in a rush and want to grab a cheap, quick bite. Everything’s veggie but the falafels are vegan and you can pay extra for hummus. Then help yourself to as much salad as you can physically cram into a pitta.

    Bagels and Beans: Great concept, two things go down very well for breakfast. It must be a chain as there were a couple in Amsterdam and we spotted one in Groningen too. They serve meat and fish in bagels but there’s a vegan option with hummus and sun-dried tomatoes. I made up my own with salad and avocado which was a perfect breakfast by a canal although the soya latte was a little lame. I found this throughout Amsterdam and had to resort to Starbucks at one point. I think I was looking in the wrong places.

    Hummus House claim to serve the best hummus in Amsterdam and I’d definitely agree. It’s vegetarian so watch out for the eggs but they make a wicked hummus with all the toppings. It’s reasonable, central and they do a good line in take-aways.

    Viva Las Vega’s Food Festival: We were lucky enough to coincide our weekend in Amsterdam with a free Vegan Food Festival. Housed in an interesting building that was formerly a tram station a bit outside of town, De Hallen, we were suddenly on home turf. Friendly faces, food we loved but had never heard of before, tasty samples and a big green sheep. Among the friendly faces were Tofupedia who, like us, are on a mission to extol the virtues of tofu to an unsuspecting Dutch public. They were holding talks and had a stall but they took some time out of their busy schedule to meet us and share goldfish bowl sized G+Ts in the sun. It was great to meet them and exchange tofu-related notes and we’d love to extend the same welcome if they visit the UK.

    The Netherlands, NE

    For the rest of the week and outside of Amsterdam, we didn’t come across much tofu to be honest. I think Tofupedia may have their work cut out. The campsite supermarket was well-stocked and had a world of gluten-free options but nothing vegan. We did finally find some tofu in a supermarket so it is there, somewhere, waiting to be pressed.

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    Tofu in the supermarket

    Groningen had a student vibe and lots of hairdressers and I’m pretty sure we would have found somewhere good to eat given time. We cheekily nipped across the border to Germany to Leer for a slap up vegan lunch and some very welcome Fritz Cola. The Netherlands has a bit of a way to go to catch up with the German Bio shops but it’s a great country and the Dutch we met were incredibly friendly, speak 4-5 languages and all of them with a smile.

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