Sasieology

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The Garth

Posted by Sas on January 17, 2017

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After my night-time hike up Pen y Fan on New Years Eve, I was definitely up for putting my walking boots back on as soon as possible (or as soon as my legs stopped aching, at least). My wish was soon granted when a friend said she was looking for people to join her on a walk up Garth Mountain organised by Cardiff Council. For all the things we have to moan about our local council, we are lucky that they organise a programme of free events throughout the year. Part of that programme is a series of 3 hikes guided by the council rangers.

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At 307m, Garth Mountain is more just a big hill. ‘Garth’ in fact means ‘hill’ in Welsh, and locally it is simply known as ‘The Garth’. Only a twenty minute drive or train journey from Cardiff, it provides accessible walks from the city where you can enjoy incredible views over South Wales. We started our walk from Taffs Well train station. There are a number if routes up The Garth, and the one we took was a steep ascent with a more gradual descent. The path uphill was mainly stones underfoot, with steps cut into the hillside. We also followed the tarmac road for part of it. The route down was slippery thanks to the damp, grassy ground. I knew we had definitely taken the right route when we met a young man covered in mud at the top who was walking in the opposite direction to us. Sliding downhill on the mud may be a challenge, but it’s a lot harder to climb up a muddy slope.

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The weather in South Wales can be, shall we say, unpredictable. We were so lucky to have an almost perfectly clear day. On the city side of the mountains we could see the whole of Cardiff right down to Cardiff Bay. On the opposite side, looking up the valley, the skies were clear up to the start of the Brecon Beacons. And, towards the border, we couldn’t quite see the Severn Bridge. Some of the other walkers in our group are incredibly knowledgeable about the geography of the area. This really helped me as I’m short-sighted and I wasn’t wearing my glasses. They patiently answered my questions such as ‘What’s that white blob?’ and ‘Are they all wind turbines over there?’

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Experiencing adventures isn’t always about travelling thousands of miles and visiting other countries. Sometimes it is simply exploring what’s on your doorstep.

 

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Pen y Fan: Conquered

Posted by Sas on January 10, 2017

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At 886m, Pen y Fan (pronounced ‘pen-ee-van’) is the highest peak in South Wales and the Southern UK. Amongst other things, it is famous for being the place where army recruits are pushed to their physical limit. However, on a sunny weekend afternoon you will also see family members of all ages hiking up the mountain to have their photo taken on the cairn at the top. Anyone in good physical fitness can tackle Pen y Fan, but don’t let that mislead you into thinking the mountain isn’t a dangerous place. One of the things that makes Pen y Fan an easier summit to conquer is that the road up to the mountain is already at a high elevation, deceptively so if you take the gently rising route from Cardiff. Only an hours drive from the city centre and the coast (that’s a short distance in Welsh driving time – we don’t really have motorways), you don’t realise how far above sea level you are. For those who have no interest in hiking up mountains, by the way, the drive through the Brecon Beacons is well worth a day out on its own and you don’t even have to step out of the car to experience the breathtaking views. Once you take on Pen y Fan, though, you gain more elevation very quickly and the weather and conditions can change almost instantly.

My first attempt at climbing Pen y Fan was about 3 years ago. We had endured a cold and icy January and February in South Wales, and it had even snowed in Cardiff (when you see actual snow in Cardiff, you know the rest of the country must be neck-deep in the stuff). In March, the weather changed suddenly and dramatically. The sun came out, skies were blue with barely a cloud to be seen, and most people were wearing shorts and t-shirts. One of my managers at work wanted to hike Pen y Fan as part of a training programme she was on for a bigger challenge up in Scotland, and she asked for volunteers to keep her company. As a non-native keen to tick another item off my ‘Things you have to do when you live in Wales’ list, I eagerly raised my hand. We parked at The Storey Arms, the most popular starting point for Pen y Fan. The first half of our walk went really well, and we all happily marched along enjoying the beautiful weather and incredible views. We did think it a little odd when two men passed us in the opposite direction wearing crampons and carrying ice axes, but we didn’t give it too much thought. Our route took us to the peak of Corn Du (pronounced ‘Corn-dee’), Pen y Fan’s neighbour, first. It’s one of those optical illusions that are common in nature that makes Corn Du look higher than Pen y Fan when you’re stood at the bottom. Although at 873m, there isn’t a lot in it. We were about halfway up Corn Du when we started to spot the first patches of snow. By the time we got to the top, it was like an ice rink. My manager still insisted it was fine and we should carry on to Pen y Fan, then she slipped and launched herself into my backpack. As I watched two black Labradors slide past me, desperately trying to get a purchase on the ice, I proposed we leave the higher, and therefore even icier, summit for another day.

So, for the last 3 years I’ve been dreaming of getting back up Pen y Fan to finish what I started. I could, of course, have just driven back up there on a nice sunny summer day and ambled up to the top with a packed lunch. But no, that would be far too easy. Instead, I decided to sign up for a walk up Pen y Fan, in the dark, on New Years Eve.

When you tell people you live in Wales, there are a few facts about the country they will relay to you. Some of these are related to famous Welsh people like Catherine Zeta Jones, Anthony  Hopkins or The Stereophonics. Another is that we have a lot of castles. Possibly the most well known fact about Wales, though, is that the country is not known for it’s great weather. As I looked at the weather forecast on the morning of 31st December, in the vain hope that it would say 20° and calm, I wondered what I had signed myself up for. Why couldn’t I have just gone to the pub on New Years Eve like everyone else?

Although it is of course free for anyone to climb Pen y Fan whenever they want (and a surprising number do on New Years Eve), I chose to sign up for a guided walk with SVL Adventures. For the small fee they charge, you get a fully guided walk with people who know the mountain like the back of their hand and have lots of knowledge and expertise to share.

My evening started off in a very covert fashion as I followed the directions to the meeting point that our guide Simon has sent me (only people who signup for the walk are allowed to know the location of the meeting point). There were 18 of us in our group, plus Simon and two other guides. We quickly got our gear ready and attached green glowsticks to each other’s backpacks so we could be counted in the dark. I briefly wondered if said glowsticks had any impact on the number of UFO sightings reported in the Brecon Beacons. At about 9.30pm we were all ready to set off on our adventure. I’m so glad that Simon was there to lead us, because in daylight I don’t have a great sense of direction, and in the pitch dark I didn’t have a clue where I was. Left to my own devices, I probably would have just walked laps around the car park. Climbing Pen y Fan at night obviously means you don’t get to see any of the breathtaking scenery, but I have to say, when it is all lit up, Brecon is quite a sight from above.

Most of the elevation in the route wee took is in the first hour of the hike. Along with the fact that the first section was sheltered from the wind, this made it much more manageable for me psychologically. We took regular breaks, and luckily the temperature wasn’t cold enough to freeze my hydration pack.

After the first steep climb, the ground levelled  out a little bit and we started to walk along a ridge (apparently – I honestly couldn’t tell in the dark). Simon warned us as we were approaching a much more exposed section, and a few seconds later I was almost blown off my feet. Fortunately it wasn’t a head wind, so I did at least feel like I was still getting somewhere as I put one foot in front of the other. Simon kept us all in check with helpful advice such as ‘Don’t go more than two feet to the left because you’ll fall off the mountain’ and ‘Don’t panic if you see green eyes staring at you in the dark, it’s only sheep’. I must admit, after hiking in bear and moose country in Alaska last year, having sheep as the only wildlife to worry about at least ticked one item off my list of concerns.

Because we were such an organised and efficient group (I bet Simon say that to all his groups!), we had plenty of time to reach the summit of Pen y Fan by midnight. It’s surprising how many other people you bump into up there, I dread to think how busy it gets during the day when only sane people hike it. We all queued up to get our obligatory photo on the cairn, someone shouted ‘It’s midnight!’, and then after a quick rendition of Auld Lang Syne we all realised we were stood on top of a mountain in freezing cold winds and decided it was time to head back down.

We took a circular route back via Corn Du, thankfully once again using the more sheltered areas of the  mountain. We did have light rain on and off throughout the hike, but it was never so bad that I had to put my waterproofs on and my walking trousers were dry again by the time I got back to my car at 3am. Later that same day, a friend of mine hiked to the top of Pen y Fan and it was covered in snow. We didn’t see one snowflake whilst we were there, so it just goes to show how quickly conditions can change on the mountain.

Climbing Pen y Fan was an exciting way to see in the New Year, and I would definitely recommend it to anyone looking for an interesting challenge. Yes, I did go to the pub on New Years Day, but I felt I deserved that pint of cider after the work I’d put in the night before.

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Why I’m OK with failing my 2016 challenge

Posted by Sas on December 24, 2016

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At the start of 2016, I set myself an annual challenge. Sasieology is about visiting new places and trying new experiences as a vegan. This year, I set myself a target of visiting 12 new places and trying 12 new activities, one for each month of the year. And I failed. I don’t mean I missed my goal by just one or two, either. I failed miserably. But do you know what? I don’t mind, because one of the big things I have learnt this year is to not give myself such a hard time when I don’t meet my own expectations. I probably could have pushed myself to visit more new destinations, and signed up for countless activities just for the sake of hitting my target, but I would have exhausted myself and no doubt stressed myself out about the whole thing. Instead, I just allowed 2016 to take me where it wanted to.

There are lots of reasons why I didn’t achieve my aim this year. Back in January, I had a whole list of places I thought I’d go and ideas for activities that I could try. But then, life got in the way. I got a bit distracted by my new job, which certainly isn’t what I want to do for the rest of my life but it is a whole lot better than my last job. I spent over 5 years working for a company that seemed intent on sapping even the last bit of energy and enthusiasm out of me. Now, I work for a company where my energy and ideas are encouraged and I feel valued and respected. And if putting more effort into my new job for a while means I’m not spending so much time on my blog, that’s a hit I can take.

And while I didn’t make many of the places on my intended list for 2016, the year did take me to a lot of new places that I wasn’t expecting. My sneaky friends got me to Amsterdam (not that I took much persuading) for their secret surprise wedding, and when another friend was packed off to Frankfurt to work for three months, I jumped at the chance to go and visit her and also explore Cologne whilst I was there. Then, I returned to Germany to meet up with some travelling buddies in Berlin.

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I also got the chance to revisit an area that I’d kind of side-swiped years earlier when I went skiing in Les Arcs and Le Plagne in France. Plus, I returned to some old favourites such as The Green Gathering Festival just down the road in Chepstow, and visiting my family in Austria.

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Although I haven’t got around to trying many new activities this year, I have signed myself up for some interesting past-times and workshops. Earlier in the year I learnt how to prune fruit trees, which has proved very useful in Plasnewydd Community Garden where I volunteer. I was also dragged in as a last minute replacement for a workshop where we learnt to upcycle our clothes as part of #LoveYourClothes week in Cardiff. They needed a couple of extra people to be in photos, but I actually got so engrossed with the vest top I was upcycling that I completely forgot the camera was there. Considering I was pretty much banned from Home Economics class at school because I kept breaking all the equipment (not on purpose, which my teacher understood, but still annoying very costly to the school), I thought I did quite well and I can’t wait to show off my new vest top once summer eventually arrives in Wales again.

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One of my big focuses of 2016 has been to increase my voluntary work, both by getting involved in more local projects and volunteering at vegan events. I flyered two vegan festivals this year. I have to admit I was expecting at least a little negativity from the general omnivore public, but everyone was lovely to talk to apart from one man who simply shouted ‘I love pork’ at me (clearly eating meat has done nothing for his articulation or communication skills). I am also part of a group formed to open the first library of things in Cardiff. The project is still in its early stages, but we are very excited and I can’t wait to tell you all more soon. If anyone in the Cardiff area would like to know how you can get involved, please let me know.

So, as you can see, although I didn’t hit my target of 12 new destinations and 12 new activities in 2016, I have still had a busy year. I’ve already got some exciting and new experiences planned for 2017, so please keep reading Sasieology for updates. I’d love to hear from some of my readers about your travels and adventures too. This is me signing off for 2016, but before I go I’d like to wish you all a very merrry Christmas and a happy new year wherever you are in the world x

 

 

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Vegan in Berlin

Posted by Sas on November 29, 2016

I don’t want to write a huge post about vegan travel and my recent trip to Berlin, but I did want to share a couple of photos with you. The people I met up with in Berlin are all omnivore, so we ate in a variety of restaurants. Finding vegan and gluten-free food in Berlin was not difficult, though, and the city is very vegan friendly. I did get a chance to walk out to Schivelbeiner Strasse, which has an entire vegan block. Not only did I eat an amazing lunch at the Goodies café there, I also stocked up on some groceries from Veganz supermarket and spotted some cool street art.

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Berlin

Posted by Sas on November 22, 2016

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The first time I visited Berlin was 1992. It was my first ever trip abroad, and my parents had taken me on a coach trip. The Berlin Wall had not long come down. In fact, from what I can remember, there were large parts of it still up. Residents had simply bulldozed through the bits where they needed access. I don’t remember a huge amount else about Berlin. There are certain places that I can recall, almost like snapshots in my mind. I remember the Brandenburg Gate, but that image could have stuck in my brain more because of the jigsaw puzzle of it that my parents bought for me. I also remember that, along the avenue stretching out from the Brandenburg Gate, there were lots of people selling souvenirs from stalls. I think all of them gave you the opportunity to buy a ‘piece of the actual wall’. Even in my young mind back then, I realised that if you pieced all those little bits of cement back together, you could probably rebuild the Berlin Wall ten times over. I imagine there were a few building sites doing a roaring trade in construction trash.

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When I told friends that I would be returning to Berlin after so long, they all commented on how different it would seem to me. I was expecting the city to have changed a lot in all that time, and to have built up a lot more, but I wasn’t prepared for just how big a change it would be.

I was meeting two friends who had flown in from Switzerland, and when one of them suggested we meet at the Starbucks next to the Brandenburg gate, I should have had a suspicion I was in for a shock. Back in 1992, I don’t know if there was anywhere in the area you could buy any coffee, let alone a Starbucks. My memory of the Brandenburg Gate was that it was by far the biggest thing in the area, and stood out from the other few buildings around it. I was more than a little confused, therefore, when it took me so long to find the damn thing. I knew from my map that I couldn’t be far away, but I couldn’t see any landmarks that I remembered from my earlier visit. It was only when I eventually saw the Gate that I realised why. Not only has the city built up around the Gate, and I was soon to discover other landmarks in Berlin, they have literally built huge embassies up to within inches of it. The Gate is now dwarfed by the massive structures around it. And the long, empty avenue containing just souvenir stalls that I remember has been replaced with trees, parks and a wide, busy road. As I sat sipping on my soya milk latte, waiting for my friends, I wondered at how amazing it is that a city and community can change so dramatically in such a relatively short space of time.

I wish I could have had longer in Berlin, but unfortunately I was only there for less than 48 hours. To make the most of our time, and to see as much of the city as possible, my friends and I decided to go on a walking tour with Original Europe Tours. Free walking tours have become a bit of an obsession of mine this year, I’m now looking out for them every time I travel. Berlin has different walking tours that you can choose from. We opted for a traditional tour that takes you around the landmarks that tell the history of the city. Most of that story of course revolves around how Germany was once a divided country, and the reasons for building the wall and then destroying it again. I wish I could say that in Europe we have learnt from that experience, but unfortunately as I type this our government here in the UK are busy building a wall between England and France. As if that isn’t a crazy enough concept in 2016, it’s a border that we’ve already dug a huge tunnel under ourselves!

Although very little of the Wall remains in today’s Berlin, and what does is presented as pieces of art, there are reminders of it everywhere. Germany has done an outstanding job of embracing their history, both positive and negative. Where the Wall has completely been demolished, a simple line of bricks in the ground mark it’s location. This line once separated two very different communities. The poorer, decaying buildings of the east side of the city that I remember from my first visited can still be spotted here and there, but generally both sides of the divide have rebuilt and developed beyond what anyone could have dreamed in the 1980s.

Following our excellent guide Ben around the city, what fascinated me most is the individual stories. I can’t imagine the desperation that drove so many people to risk their lives by crossing to the west. One of the displays, of which there are many dotted around the city, shows an endless loop of film footage of an eastern soldier running over the border and jumping on a passing tram whilst he was carrying out maintenance. He literally just dropped the tool he was using and took his chance. Other people are known to have chopped the roof of their cars so they would fit under barriers. A lot of the stories are incredibly sad. One young man suffered a horrible, slow death caught on the barbed wire between the two zones because neither the east nor west soldiers could decided who should go in to help him. The last person to have been killed trying to cross the border was a man who was shot swimming across the narrow river, a popular choice of escape. He was killed only 10 days before the wall came down. It’s unbelievably sat to think that, if he had only decided to delay his attempt by another couple of weeks, he would have been reunited with the friends and family that he was so desperately trying to reach on the other side.

I was surprised that the original Checkpoint Charlie has all but been destroyed, to be replaced by a tacky, tourist-attracting version that looks like something out of a weird Disneyland ride. Checkpoint Charlie was one of the main crossing points on the border, and the most famous. Knocking it down completely is to me like knocking down the Brandenburg Gate, but obviously Germany has decided they would rather let two actors dress as soldiers and charge tourists to have their photo taken with them.

Making the decisions on what to keep, what to memorialise and what to get rid off must have been a tough task for Berlin and it’s inhabitants. I’m pretty sure that, if this was the history of the UK we were talking about, we’d still be at the stage of making ‘ideas committees’. They’ve done a really good job, though. Berlin today is as exciting for me as it was for that little 12 year old who had never travelled abroad before. It is a genuine city that never sleeps, there is something there for everyone 24 hours a day. And I feel honoured to have experienced the city at two very different  points in its life.

 

 

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Vegan Food in Amsterdam

Posted by Sas on June 28, 2016

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I have a confession to make. Although I travel solo a lot, when I am travelling with other people I tend to be the one who just follows everyone else. When I was in Amsterdam, as part of a group of 18, I ate a lot of great vegan food but I couldn’t tell you where some of it was from as I don’t know. I would like to say thank you to my non-vegan friends for picking some tasty eating spots though. Here’s what I do remember about eating vegan in Amsterdam:

Vegabond – This tiny shop and café on one of the narrow side streets is a must for any vegan visitor to Amsterdam. They have an impressive selection of groceries to keep you going (including gluten-free beer 🙂 ) and the café serves the most delicious lunches. The open gluten-free sandwich with vegan cheese and pine nuts is delicious, and I washed it down with a refreshing red juice.

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Candy Freaks – I’d seen this shop on Happy Cow but wasn’t going to go there. Then I stumbled upon it by accident whilst I was exploring (ie lost) in the city. This is the most vegan-friendly sweet shop I have ever been in. Most of the sweets are part of one huge pick & mix, and they are all labelled as to whether they are vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free and a whole host of other dietary requirements. The guy running the shop is also super nice, and very keen to direct veggies and vegans around Amsterdam and recommend places to eat. When he told me they also do mail order, including to Wales, I knew me finding Candy Freaks was just going to be dangerous.

Intercontinental Amstel – Most of the recommendations I make on my blog are for travellers on a budget. Just to warn you now, this one isn’t. To cut a long story short, I thought I was going to Amsterdam to celebrate a 30th birthday but the hosts surprised us by getting married whilst we were there! It was a true honour and privilege to have been included as part of their special day, and to top it all off they took us to the 5 star Amstel hotel for an out-of-this-world dinner in their wine room. My friend had informed the restaurant that I am vegan and gluten-free, but none of us expected the meal I got. Every course was as equally thought through and presented as my omnivore friends’. Anything I write here could not do the food justice, and I really appreciate that the hotel staff did not make me feel different or awkward for one second that I was there. This is the first time I have blogged about 5 star luxury, but if you really want to treat yourself I would strongly recommend the Intercontinental Amstel. If you are vegan, gluten-free or have any other dietary requirements, simply let the staff know and trust them to deliver the best meal you have ever tasted.

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Amsterdam

Posted by Sas on June 21, 2016

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At the start of this year, I challenged myself to visit 12 new destinations in 12 months. At the time, I had a good idea of the places I thought I would end up in 2016. I’m happy to say, though, things don’t always go to plan. Just two weeks after my impulse trip to Germany, I was packing my bags again and heading out for a long weekend in Amsterdam. I’d been invited along on a group trip by fellow travellers that I’d met in Alaska last year. Just like Frankfurt and Cologne, Amsterdam wasn’t somewhere I’d expected to visit this year, but I’m so glad that I did.

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There are a lot of cities I’ve visited where I’ve really felt mis-sold. Take San Francisco, for example. The San Francisco you see in all the movies and TV shows is actually just a very small part of one neighbourhood. The majority of the city looked nothing like I expected it to. What I like about Amsterdam is that it looks exactly how I imagined. Tall, wonky houses line  endless canals that are straddled by bridges carrying cyclists. People live on boats, and stopping for a break at one of the many cafes is an essential part of the day. After all, it was Amsterdam’s merchants who introduced coffee to Europe.

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The only problem I had with Amsterdam is that I found it so disorientating. It doesn’t take long for the canals to start all looking the same, and there’s not much difference between the design of the bridges for an untrained eye to tell them apart. At one point we walked down the same street 4 times before we realised we were going round in circles. I guess it all adds to the charm when visiting Amsterdam as a tourist, although I think I’d find it frustrating if I had to actually get somewhere.

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I started to plot my journey through the city by shops. There are a lot of independent shops here, so that is at least one feature you can tell apart. Vintage shops are particularly common, and anyone who loves to shop and hunt out unique pieces would feel right at home here. Serious cycling shops are also popular, which makes me think a lot of Amsterdam residents keep expensive road bikes at home in addition to the city bikes they hurtle around the city on. The bikes, I have to admit, are one thing I was not prepared for. I mean, obviously, I knew that everyone in Amsterdam cycles. And I knew that there are more bikes than cars in the city. What I didn’t know was that those bikes, and the people on them, speed through narrow crowded streets at about 30mph. The only warning you get is a brief ring of a bike bell, and if you don’t get out of the way quick enough, well that’s your problem. I read a statistic that 12,000 to 15,000 bicycles are pulled out of Amsterdam’s canals every year. I suspect most of these are the result of either tourists trying to manoeuvre rental bikes along the narrow streets, or locals trying to avoid the tourists.

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The other fast-moving objects you have to look out for in Amsterdam are trams. If you don’t like the thought of cardio, this is how you get around the city fast. Tickets last for either 1 hour or 24 hours, and the trams operate between 6.30am and 12.30am.

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If you’re after a more romantic mode of transport, there are numerous options of boat trip to choose from. Officially made a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2010, the Amsterdam Canal Ring is made up of waterways that outnumber those in Venice. Amsterdam also has three times as many bridges as Venice, more than any other city worldwide. The canals were built in the early 1600s, after Amsterdam’s population grew beyond its medieval walls and land was drained and reclaimed.

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One of the most famous areas of Amsterdam is the Red Light District. Streets so narrow you have to squeeze past the line of people walking in the opposite direction are lined of both sides with windows displaying women who generate about ∈650 million annually. Prostitution was legalised in the Netherlands in 1810, and brothels became legal in 2000. Only about 5% of prostitutes working in Amsterdam were born in the Netherlands. The red light is supposed to be flattering, but to be honest there were so many red lights in such a confined space I could barely see anything, let alone tell you which woman I found the most attractive. Since 2007, city officials have been trying to clean up the district by reducing the number of Red Light windows. Instead, they are encouraging the gentrification of the area by helping fashion studios, art galleries and trendy cafes to open up. It’s a slow process, as they have to find new attractions to replace the tourists who come to Amsterdam for the sex trade.

I can imagine that, if you haven’t experienced anything like it before, the Red Light District could be a shock to the senses. If it does bother you, though, you can avoid the area. You could still visit Amsterdam and avoid bikes and canals if you really have a problem with them. What you can’t really avoid in Amsterdam is the smell of weed. Although cannabis is illegal in the Netherlands, it is tolerated. And this is what makes it such an attractive destination for a lot of visitors. There are strict rules on when and where cannabis is ‘allowed’ to be sold and consumed. However, the ever-present smell of it in the city makes me think there is more smoked than authorities like to admit to. The only place I couldn’t smell weed was outside the cheese shops, because there the only thing you can smell is cheese. As a vegan, I think I prefer the smell of the weed.

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So – canals, bikes, trams, cafes, vintage shops, red lights, weed and cheese. As I said, Amsterdam was everything that it was sold to me to be. For a lot of the group I was travelling with, it wasn’t their first trip and I can see why. Once you start to learn the layout of the labyrinth of canals and streets, or you stop caring that you’re lost, it’s very easy to fall into the flow of Amsterdam life.

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Vegan Food in Cologne

Posted by Sas on June 14, 2016

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When I was in Cologne, I was travelling with an omnivore friend. I decided the best way to choose where we ate was to pass her the Happy Cow app and leave it up to her. I told her I would eat anywhere listed as vegan-friendly. This is what she picked:

Naturata City – As well as being a handy place to shop for vegan snacks and essentials right in the heart of the city, this organic supermarket also houses a café  They serve meat, with veggie and vegan options available, and it’s self-service canteen style. I found the food labels in the café to be a little confusing, but the girl working behind the counter was happy to explain to me what I could and couldn’t eat.

Osho’s Place – Like Naturara City, Osho’s Place is a canteen-style restaurant. It’s all vegetarian, and the food is priced by weight. I was disappointed that they didn’t have many vegan and gluten-free options. The little I could eat was from different priced dishes, which led to the lady at the checkout getting very annoyed with me because I hadn’t understood their system of what goes in which bowl or on which plate and at whch price. In my hungover state, I told her just to charge me the most expensive price so I could sit down and eat my food.

Past & Future – I was surprised when my friend picked this restaurant because it is 100% vegan, but we loved Past & Future so much that we ended up going back there on our second night in Cologne as well. I’m sure their a-la-carte menu is very tasty, but to be honest I don’t know because I didn’t get past the amazing all-you-can-eat buffet. There are lots of gluten-free options too, and make sure you leave room to try the chocolate avocado mousse for dessert.

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Cologne: Beyond the Cathedral

Posted by Sas on June 7, 2016

DSC_0769Cologne is Germany’s fourth largest city, and therefore bigger than Frankfurt. The layout of the city somehow makes it feel smaller. One thing there is a lot more of in Cologne is tourists, and the main reason for that is the cathedral. The gigantic structure towers over the city. It took 600 years to build, although admittedly for 300 of those years almost no building work was carried out. I didn’t go inside the cathedral, but I was impressed by the detail and skill demonstrated on the outside of the building.

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A great way to see the city is with the Can You Handle It? free walking tour, which meets outside McDonalds in Rudolf Platz every day at 12noon and 4pm. Be aware that it is a long walking tour, and we were with our guide Helgi for more than 3 hours.

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Since it was bombed during World War II, there isn’t much of the old town left. Most of Cologne was destroyed within just 90 minutes of one bombing raid. It is believed that Cologne wasn’t actually the Allied’s target that night, but bad weather forced them to change their plans. It’s bizarre to think that, if the weather had been clearer, the architecture of Cologne would now look totally different.

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Helgi told us about how Cologne was quickly rebuilt after the war, plainer and simpler buildings being more efficient than recreating their elaborate predecessors. I still think there is beauty in these purpose-built structures though, especially when I compare them to the pre-fab buildings that made up part of my middle school in England.

Frankfurt and Cologne have a lot in common. There is a bridge with love locks here too, although the sheer number of padlocks in Cologne compared to Frankfurt suggests that Cologne city council are not so concerned about the potential dangers. In fact, Helgi told us that the locks are more likely to be removed by people scavenging the metal to sell.

Gunter Demnig’s stumbling blocks are also dotted all over Cologne, and their locations give an indication of how the layout of the city has changed.

The basement of the NS Dokumentationszentrum houses an insight into Cologne’s third reich history. It was used as the local gestapo prison where people were interrogated, tortured and killed, executions often occurring in the courtyard. Inscriptions written by prisoners can still be seen on the basement walls, the last one reading ‘I think I can see an American soldier’.

One curious aspect of Cologne that I had to ask Helgi about is the green man signs for crossing the roads. In every other European city I have visited there is one green man and one red man instructing you when it is safe to cross the road. In Cologne, however, there are two red men and one green man. Helgi told me that he had heard various reasons as to why this is, but the most probable is that it saves money. Traffic lights usually come in sets of three, so rather then spend money requesting sets of two lights for the pedestrian crossings the city of Cologne thought they’d save a few euros by bulk ordering.

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Like all good holiday destinations, Cologne has it’s own local tipple. Kölsch is a light and hoppy beer served in 0.2l measures. In a lot of bars in Cologne, you will automatically be served Kölsch upon arrival. When your glass is empty, the server will replace it with a fresh one. When you are finished drinking, you indicate this by placing your beer mat on top of your glass. It seems a bit unhygienic to me, but I guess it avoids having to queue at the bar or attract the server’s attention.

All I need is for the breweries of Cologne to develop a gluten-free version of Kölsch, and it would be a strong contender for my favourite city in Europe.

 

Useful Info

We travelled from Frankfurt to Cologne with blablacar. It was a very last minute decision, and a totally new experience for me. For only ∈9 per person we got an efficient transfer in a nice car with a friendly local, and we also got to know our other travelling companion in the car.

Train one-way Cologne to Frankfurt approx. ∈49.

Can You Handle It? walking tour is free, but tipping is strongly recommended.

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Vegan Food in Frankfurt

Posted by Sas on May 31, 2016

DSC_0714Germany is one of the most welcoming countries for vegans. A search of any German city on Happy Cow will give you a long list of not only vegan-friendly restaurants, but many options for dedicated vegetarian and vegan eateries. As I tend to do when I travel, I booked self-catering hostel accommodation in Frankfurt. This means that, should I have trouble finding vegan and gluten-free food, I always have the option to cook for myself. Self-catering can also work out a lot cheaper, although not always. As there are so many vegan options to choose from in Frankfurt, I treated myself and ate out for every meal. Well, it’s only my duty as a vegan blogger right? 🙂

Here are all the restaurants, cafes and coffee shops I managed to cram into my few days in Frankfurt:

Elia (Greek restaurant) – This was actually the one place I ate where they had no vegan options on the menu. Once I explained my dietary requirements, though, the friendly Greek staff were more than happy to request a vegan and gluten-free meal from the chef for me. I enjoyed a plate of rice with vegetables that was beautifully cooked and presented and tasted delicious.

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Saftcraft – On the day I arrived in Frankfurt, I sought out Saftcraft because I thought some fresh juice might perk me up after a long night of travelling. The café is 100% vegan and they have a lot of gluten-free options. The staff were super nice and helpful. Their quinoa Bolognese pot is one of the best vegan lunches I have ever tasted. I’m not usually a fan of iced tea, but as their homemade version was part of the meal deal I thought I’d give it a try and I’m so glad I did. It was so refreshing and tasty, and along with the Bolognese pot just what I needed to restore my energy. I loved Saftcraft so much that I went back for a breakfast smoothie the following morning. The first floor of the café is also a really nice place to chill out with a coffee, and I was happy to hang out for an hour or so whilst I checked my emails and caught up on admin. Wi-Fi connection is far from functional in Frankfurt, which I found strange for a business hub. Saftcraft is a Wi-Fi hotspot, though, which is really easy to sign up for and offers better than average service.

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Coffee Fellows – This chain of coffee shops makes a mean soya latte, and seems to hire some of the happiest baristas on the planet. They do also offer vegan sandwiches if you’re OK with gluten, and their ice-cream bar has an impressive selection of vegan options. You can just about make out the list of vegan flavours on the glass in my photo, but the real reason I took this picture was because of the cute step they have in front of the counter so that children can see all the ice-cream flavours. What a brilliant idea!

Vevay – As someone who travels solo regularly, I’m used to eating on my own. It can feel like you are a burden to restaurants, though, as they are missing out on the money from the extra seat at the table you are taking up. I’ve had restaurants admit me only on the condition I eat at the bar, crammed in next to either the glass collection point, the bathrooms or both. This was  far from my experience at Vevay, though. I was welcomed with a friendly smile, invited to sit where I wanted and not pressured at all to rush and vacate the table. I opted for the protein bowl, which had so many components to it I wouldn’t want to list them all here for fear I would forget some and miss them out. Needless to say it was delicious, and totally different from the food I would prepare at home so a nice treat for myself.

Pho Ngon – This Vietnamese restaurant is a hidden gem in the heart of Frankfurt, and I almost don’t want to tell you about it in case it becomes too popular. A friend who works in Frankfurt took me there after it had been recommended to her from a colleague. They have a few vegan and gluten-free options on the menu, and the young man serving us was happy to advise on what I could and couldn’t eat. We shared the vegan tofu summer rolls to start, which can be made with rice paper. They were huge, and I’m glad we decided to share as a whole portion to myself would have left no room for my main course. I opted for rice with fried tofu and vegetables, which was also a very generous portion. The food was delicious, and the restaurant a really nice setting to eat it.

Kuffler & Bucher Asian Restaurant – Frankfurt airport is either the second or third largest airport in Europe after Heathrow, depending on what information you read. Once you get through security, your options for food depend on which departure area you are in. Kuffler & Bucher is one of the options in Terminal 2B, which is where my flight was departing from. There are two totally different sides to the restaurant, which is a surprising but actually very clever idea.  While one side caters to very traditional German tastes, the other side offers all Asian food. Presuming I had more chance of finding something vegan and gluten-free to eat, I went for the Asian side. They have vegan and vegetarian options clearly labelled on the menu, and the lovely waitress swapped the udon noodles for rice noodles to omit the gluten. She also kindly put the chillies on the side of my dish so I could make it as hot as I wanted to. I could not have asked for a nicer airport meal to finish off my trip.

 

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