Dales new and old shoes - Our Vegan Travel Challenge, Week 3

Since our last vegan travel update from week two we’ve spent the past seven days in the Netherlands, learned what’s ‘accidentally’ vegan, and come to a conclusion on our hunt for a pair of new vegan shoes!

After sending our last update about our thirty day vegan travel challenge for Veganuary to print last week we mentioned that we were about to head out the door to hitchhike our way to Rotterdam after saying our goodbyes to our amazing Couchsurfing hosts in Antwerp, but unfortunately for us the weather took that possibility out of our hands. The night before it started to pour down, but as we sat down to eat freshly made Mexican food with a large scoop of homemade guacamole and cashew nut cream (delicious!) we thought that maybe by the morning it might pass, but no.

As we woke and filled ourselves for the second morning running with fresh fruit, almonds, cereal, fresh orange juice and lots of hummus (every morning should start with hummus!); we made the decision that standing out in the rain for hours was certainly not the best idea, so we took to the travel website Rome2Rio to use it’s smart search engine that pulls all of the different options of transport – planes, trains, cars and even ferries! – that helped us to find a really cheap Megabus that would be leaving later on in the day.

It wasn’t to be a long journey, but when it did finally arrive we were already running a little late, thankfully our next Couchsurfing host, Daniel. was waiting there to ferry us straight back to his place so that we could all still have time to eat something and get to know each other a little before the night time hours ran out and sleep came calling.

A Mix Of Cultures

Staying with Daniel and his partner Oliver was an exciting prospect for us as they’d travelled to some incredible countries that we’d love to visit, such as Cuba and Peru, but not only that; Daniel has been part of the Couchsurfing community for a long time and has the title of Ambassador due to the good work he’s done connecting with new members who could do with a little introduction to get things started; but when we sat down to eat with them we found that the meal in front of us was not only delicious looking, but entirely vegan too – especially for us!

That night we had a delicious chickpea dish served with perfect rice and roasted aubergines, all cooked by Oliver who we found out to be absolute wizard in the kitchen, making food inspired by recipes from his native Lebanon, everything he made we couldn’t help but help ourselves to seconds of.

The following night we’d planned to cook something in order to repay the huge favour done to us by this great couple, but when we mentioned that dahl was to be our meal of choice, it turned out that great minds think alike and that Ollie had intended to cook the same meal.

Well, with Franca keen to learn from the master himself, we let the wizard lead in the kitchen and made mental notes as he cooked a lentil dahl that didn’t resemble any of the dahl that Franca had made in the past. Not that her personal attempt wasn’t delicious, just that the method and multiple choice of spices made a huge difference to the taste and the desire to help ourselves to more.

Along with it we also had some more of that perfect rice, again prepared differently to how we would typically cook it, but a method we’ll be practicing again as soon as we get the chance. Also, there was a vegetable curry that was almost as good as the dahl, but there’s something about dahl that I love.

Vegetable curry, lentil dahl and rice - Our Vegan Travel Challenge, Week 3

Always Hunt In Local Markets

No matter if our time in a city is long or short, we’re always keen to spend some of our time at local markets, mostly for doing some great people watching as people go about their daily or weekly routine, but also to see what kind of specialities one market has from the next.

On this particular occasion we were fortunate enough to be in Rotterdam on one of the two days in which the biggest food and general produce markets is running in the center of the city. With market stalls stretching back as far as the eye can see, there are two main ‘streets‘ to the market, one mostly made of imported bits and pieces – like belts, cleaning goods and lots of cheap plastic kids toys – the other side of is full of fresh fruit, vegetables – and of course – meats, fish, and cheeses.

Walking down the corridor of food stalls we stopped and watched from time-to-time as people bought their produce for the week, then at one particularly busy stall we noticed that as the customers began to step away that this particular stall was selling avocados at 4 for €1 – a bargain! Never have we seen this incredible vegetable so cheap, and rarely for more than one avocado alone. If you’re lucky you might get one for a Euro, but never two, forget about three!

Of course we couldn’t help but take some with us and immediately set off back to the house so that we could make ourselves a delicious – and avocado filled! – lunch.

With a little oil, salt and pepper; we spooned it between two slices of the darkest and brownest bread we could find at Aldi and finished it all off without barely chewing. They were just ripe and once we finished the one avocado between us it was hard to resist opening them all.

Avocado of course became our breakfast and lunch for the following day as we continued to maintain our vegan diet during this thirty day travel challenge, though when the last one was eaten we were quite upset to not have any more.

Avocado and cherry tomato sandwich - Our Vegan Travel Challenge, Week 3

Vegan Food In Rotterdam

Having taken a moment to scan over HappyCow before heading to Rotterdam we already knew that finding a place to eat something vegan was going to be pretty easy to take care of, but one restaurant in particular caught our attention.

Spirit in Rotterdam is a 100% organic restaurant selling nothing but vegetarian food since 2011, but when you look at the huge selection of food from its ‘pay by weight‘ buffet selection you’ll notice that almost everything is clearly marked as vegan; a nice surprise for the two of us, it did leave us with a problem in where to start and what to choose!

From bulgar wheat falafels, to delicious spelt salad; even with the two of us choosing something different for each of our plates so that we could both try as much as possible, there was still more items left that we couldn’t as our plates we’re just too full. When it came to dessert though, it was a whole different ball game.

A customer filling her plate at Spirit, Rotterdam - Our Vegan Travel Challenge, Week 3

We’re Getting Addicted To Vegan Desserts

We knew before arriving that there would be some vegan desserts to try, and try them we did. There were delicious lime pie slices, pineapple cakes and more-ish chocolate bites; but the clear star of the show most certainly had to be the eight different flavours of vegan ice cream that we somehow managed to take a scoop of each back to our table.

The flavours were fantastic, diverse, not too sweet and every single one creamy in texture. Between them we loved the one sweetened with banana, raisin and goji berries, the scoop of chocolate that we would have taken a whole bowl of with pleasure, and the tangy scoop of pineapple flavoured ice cream that was Franca’s personal favourite.

We were also lucky enough to tick off one of our missions for the Netherlands, and that was to try a vegan Dutch pancake! Spirit had one at hand and we couldn’t help but try it, and love it.

Fresh vegan ice cream at Spirit, Rotterdam- Our Vegan Travel Challenge, Week 3
Vegan desserts at Spirit, Rotterdam - Our Vegan Travel Challenge, Week 3
A vegan Dutch pancake at Spirit, Rotterda - Our Vegan Travel Challenge, Week 3

From Rotterdam to Haarlem

That night we could barely breathe let alone eat anything so we decided to skip dinner altogether given how full we were after eating our lunch at Spirit, so it wasn’t until the following morning when we took our coffee that we finished the last of the avocados with some bread before saying our goodbyes to our fantastic Couchsurfing hosts and trying our hand at hitchhiking for the second time since hitting the road again.

For two hours we stood at a petrol station on the road heading out of Rotterdam and north towards our next stop of Haarlem, but no matter how many people we asked or how much we flashed our cardboard signs, we just couldn’t seem to find anyone heading where we wanted. With hopes dashed we made our way to the central train station where our already prolonged journey north began to get really messy.

For the first time in more months than we can remember we had a really bad travel day, first the train was canceled, then the whole line was closed down so there’d be no trains to Haarlem for at least an hour or more, and when we asked three different people for help or an alternative route north they all gave us different directions. Eventually we began to piece together the three sets of information and planned ourselves a route that, whilst longer and heading in the wrong direction, would beat standing waiting at the station for who knows how long.

We took a train heading east to Utrecht – entirely in the wrong direction – then a train heading north again towards Amsterdam where we’d then have to change for a last train for the last leg of the journey to Haarlem. All in all it probably took twice as long as the original trip would have, but it wasn’t so bad and really not that as bad and as time consuming as the staff at Rotterdam station were trying to make out.

Franca trying to hitchhike from Rotterdam to Haarlem - Our Vegan Travel Challenge, Week 3

The Quiet Life Of Haarlem

Haarlem looks and feels very much like its closest counterpart, Amsterdam, but without even a third of the traffic or relentless population of tourists. It’s actually quite similar to Bruges in some way given its age and feel, but probably not nearly as picturesque.

Whilst we’d be staying in the city we’d be spending one night at a small boutique hostel called Hello I’m Local that oozed incredible design. For the following night we’d again be Couchsurfing, meeting with and talking with a local, as well as having the chance to make another fresh pasta dish.

At Hello I’m Local we used their kitchen to break away from the bread and avocado meals that we’d happily been eating across some of the breakfasts and lunches from the previous few days, and instead chose to visit a local supermarket, stock up on beans and grains, and make a delicious and fresh salad, topped with a huge bowl of beetroot each for dessert! And for the morning, we had a nice bio-breakfast of fresh fruit and museli.

With our Couchsurfing host Menno we not only made a simple vegan pasta dish to share, but also made use of this incredible guide to vegan eating in the Netherlands to also find another Dutch classic called ‘ontbijtkoek‘ which is a dark brown coloured cake, usually taken at breakfast but eaten as a snack throughout the day. It’s mostly a ginger cake, but not overly too spicy or sweet, though sweetness is definitely its biggest characteristic. Many of them normally come with honey as an ingredient, but if you hunt around you’ll soon find one without it to try.

Breakfast at Hello I'm Local - Our Vegan Travel Challenge, Week 3
A few slices of Onbijtkoek - Our Vegan Travel Challenge, Week 3

Amsterdam, New Shoes, and the Gay Pride Canal Parade

As soon as our hosts in Rotterdam mentioned that they were going to be going to and taking part in the parade during the coming weekend we knew we couldn’t miss it. We’d been really keen already to attend, but this pushed us even further to not miss it.

In the morning we woke up really early, took our usual morning ‘hit‘ of coffee to keep our addiction at bay, a slice of ginger cake and headed out to take the earliest train possible. Once into our hotel we dropped the bags off, grabbed our few essentials and made our way into town, however, prior to arriving I made sure to know where Vega-Life – a vegan lifestyle shop in the heart of the city – was, to take a look at their offering of vegetarian shoes.

It’s been a long time coming and after almost three weeks of hunting in different vegan shops in Belgium and the Netherlands, I finally had the chance to not only look at one or two different pairs of safe-for-vegans shoes, but a whole wall full of choice!

Though Vega-Life sell a number of different brands, a lot of their stock is given over to the large amount of vegan sneakers that the North American alternative-wear company Macbeth produce, and though they aren’t entirely a vegan company they do carry a large range in vegan branded clothes and shoes that I know I can trust once I spot their green vegan logo.

Macbeth sneakers marked as vegan - Our Vegan Travel Challenge, Week 3

It wasn’t long before I had my feet in a pair, had a walk around and settled on a colour. Needless to say, within ten minutes my mind was made up and my feet began to thank me that I’d no longer be giving them too much air via the enormous holes that have been enlarging for almost two months now.

I’m really pleased to have found a pair of shoes to replace my previous pair and can’t thank Franca’s parents enough for donating to our site via our donation page so that we could upgrade our gradually falling apart single pair of shoes, but it does make me question just why so many of the products we take for granted use so many animal products in their manufacturing process, why so many products don’t carry full material lists to show how they’ve been made, but also that a lot of us (myself very much included) never question where our purchases are coming from.

Another problem I see for people who aren’t on a vegan challenge like us, but living the vegan lifestyle everyday is that access to vegan-ready products is so darn hard and too expensive. In some cases we see far too many healthy products are at set at too steep a price for more people to live a healthy lifestyle, making changing to a healthy diet almost too exclusive; and that’s just not fair.

Dales trying on new vegan trainers - Our Vegan Travel Challenge, Week 3
Dale with his new vegan shoes from Vega Life in Amsterdam - Our Vegan Travel Challenge, Week 3

The Parade

After changing into the shoes we made our way to the parade and neither of us were left disappointed. It was our first experience and opportunity to lend our support and pride at a Gay Pride Parade, and hopefully not the last.

It’s a unique experience as you walk along the canal-side as people line the entire root sitting and standing as they watch the boats pass, watching as people in boats tied up on the canal pump out music that you can’t help but gyrate to, no matter if it’s your style of music or not. It’s a big summer party and everyone is invited, and no matter what your gender or sexual orientation, as one collected mass of humans everyone shows their pride and shouts, cheers, sings and dances their way through the crowd.

It’s full of some of the most incredibly happy and life-loving people. Each person we stopped to watch or take a photo of was always smiling from ear-to-ear and extremely happy to have their picture taken.

Two fun loving guys from the Gay Pride Parade in Amsterdam - Our Vegan Travel Challenge, Week 3
One of the Gay Pride Canal Parade boats in Amsterdam - Our Vegan Travel Challenge, Week 3

Following the parade we set off for one of my own personal favourite cafes right near central station, and though it might be on one of the most popular streets in the city, is always just quiet enough for us to find a seat, grab a fresh mint tea and settle down to people watch as we sat down and rested for the first time since hours before the parade had actually begun.

Unfortunately though, the weather was taking a turn for the worst and knowing that we had about an hour walk away from our accommodation, knowing that the buses were going to be pretty crazy given the sudden flood of rainwater and the mass of people for the parade too, we decided to head to Maoz Falafel to fill ourselves up on their super cheap falafel and refillable salad bar, and – once the rain had stopped – walked back to finally rest for the night.

Maoz Falafel in Amsterdam - Our Vegan Travel Challenge, Week 3

How Are We Doing?

This week has been fantastic for vegan eating, with the homemade Lebanese meals with our Couchsurfing hosts in Rotterdam being amongst the biggest highlights. Of course our enormous lunchtime buffet meal at Spirit was a huge bonus to our week too, but I think that we’d both say that their desserts win the prize for best of the selection.

For the rest of the week we ate great fresh vegetables for our breakfast and lunches, snacked on nuts during the day for the protein, and bought a lovely jar of crunchy peanut butter to carry with us should we feel like tucking into some fresh brown bread during our hours of walking around each city we’ve visited.

Applying the vegan lifestyle to our day has had its ups and downs, with ingredient checking making up some of our day now as our interest begins to really take shape as to what is inside the food and drinks (like the ‘accidentally’ vegan wine we shared with Daniel and Oliver in Rotterdam. Thanks guys!) we choose to eat and drink. Obviously the best and biggest highlight for me being the happy conclusion to my personal challenge to find some shoes that a vegan or vegetarian can wear without the fear of animal glue being used to keep them together.

A bottle and glass of vegan wine - Our Vegan Travel Challenge, Week 3

Clearly for us the biggest culture highlight of the week was the parade. It’s something everyone must see and take part in, not as just as a celebration of gay pride, but as a celebration of love for one another, no matter if you’re gay, straight, bi or any other description. We’re all human in the end. Celebrate that fact every day, not just once a year.

Being vegan and travelling is certainly been fun these past three weeks, but as we approach the final week and the ultimate conclusion we’re beginning to talk each day on that question which we’ve posed our selves at the end of each week – could we go vegan full-time? Time will tell.

Have you signed up for Veganuary yet?