Allergies in Amsterdam

 

I don’t know about you, but since allergies have become part of our life, holidays make me nervous. Or perhaps I should say, I’m very good at dreaming about and planning holidays but the practicalities of allergies have totally changed our viewpoint.

On the whole we’re pretty cautious about holiday destinations. Allergies have added a whole new consideration to holiday planning. We’ve never braved a catered holiday, or one where we’d be eating every meal out, so it’s always a self-catered option for us so we can cook ourselves. Probably sounds crazy to anyone who doesn’t have to think about it. We frequently stay in the UK or go to France as D is fluent in French and we know we can get our requirements across with none lost in translation. And yet we used to travel far and wide, perfectly happy in other cultures and countries where we couldn’t speak the language at all. We used to be so much bolder in our choices, but these days feeling comfortable, safe in our surroundings is as important as excitement and adventure.

But this time we strayed a little from our comfort zone. We needed to show the girls that they can travel as long as they’re careful and plan well. So we planned a short city break to Amsterdam to experience (or revisit for D and I) another culture and see some beautiful sights and awe inspiring art. I have to confess that I was really keen on the idea and happily booked the flights and then I started to fret! Why did we choose a country which eats so much cheese? What if we couldn’t find the ingredients we needed, what if people didn’t get our concerns? Looking in our guide book at the traditional dishes the Dutch like to eat, it was mainly a large selection of items that would be off our menu in any case – cheese, waffles, pancakes, chips with mayonnaise. It was starting to look rather a poor choice, although as is widely known, the Dutch speak English incredibly well.

Well I needn’t have worried. Yes, we can’t eat the traditional items but we managed and had a fabulous, if rather tiring few days. Ok we only ate out once at a tried and tested Wagamama. I know not at all traditional or adventurous, but we all felt happy with that. In fact the waiter was more than capable of dealing with our concerns in the most amazingly fluent English that he even learnt that the chicken in European Wagamama branches has a pre-marinade that contains sesame oil, so the chefs put their heads together and came up with a suitable safe alternative for Little S. It really was impressive service.

Otherwise we cooked in our own apartment or came out with pre-packed picnics on the go. I do think that we have some real advantages by self-catering, we not only save lots of money but also get the opportunity to have a good browse in the local supermarkets. It’s actually become a bit of a holiday treat for us. The local cavernous shop was a Dirk van den Broek and had a fantastic range of Alpro products, even the – sadly missed and discontinued in the UK – pouring yogurt and an Alpro brand margarine which I’d never seen before.

In fact there was so much dairy it was kept in its own closed refrigerated room, ideal for dairy avoiders! We also came across Oatly which is always a bit of a relief. European standard food labelling certainly helped when making our choices and trying new products. Luckily it was a short trip and I’d packed loads of food, as we did struggle to find suitable nut, sesame and milk free bread and I didn’t come across any safe biscuits or easy snacks we could buy.

I think the hardest part was probably the travel – not only the worries of flying with allergies, but being unable to find any suitable snack or meal at an airport or on the flight. I know others brave long haul flights but we’re not there quite yet.

Sorry, I know this post doesn’t give reams of useful information about travel to Holland with allergies, and may seem ridiculous to those who don’t have any concerns, but we found it a hugely positive experience to step outside our comfort zone, to be that little bit braver and show the girls that their horizons can extend to new and different places. For me, the crucial aspect is planning and taking the right stuff to make sure we can get by without surviving on bags of crisps alone!

 

Paris and Disneyland with allergies

Well we’re back from a lovely but very busy weekend in Paris. It was a bit of a mission for just 4 days – basically 2 days travelling (driving and ferry), 1 day in Disneyland Paris and 1 day in Paris. We had a lovely time, with no allergy-related incidents, but it did highlight some of the difficulties of travelling with food allergies.

On the ferry there was no option for food for the girls other than crisps or apples. The info on board kindly mentioned that they were happy to give the ingredients for all dishes sold on board, but they couldn’t guarantee than any dish didn’t include other ingredients than those listed. Covering their backs basically. Since a cross-channel ferry isn’t really the best place to take risks – this means all food is out of bounds, even usually safe basics like baked beans and toast.

I had obviously packed plenty of food for the trip and the rest of the weekend, including a cinnamon swirl cake, homemade cookies, dairy-free spread, soya-cheese, dairy-free chocolate spread… If you are catering for allergies and travelling you just have to be prepared. For the rest of the journey, again any stops in service stations etc can only really provide crisps (all packs need to be thoroughly checked as lots contain milk) and sweets. Healthy huh!!

We didn’t get time to visit a large supermarket this time, but they do, on the whole, have a great range of soya products – milks, a fantastic range of yogurts and even soya-steaks. However, you must be cautious of some other products – pasta and hummus often contain egg, there is no chance of dairy/egg free biscuits and even tomato ketchup brands often contain milk. However, fresh baguettes are fine – no egg, milk, nuts or sesame – yippee! There are certainly worse things to live off for a few days, than fine French baguettes 🙂

We were self-catering (almost a necessity for us) and managed to get by with taking lots of food, unexciting meals and small grocery stores and bakeries. I’m not sure how we’d manage in a hotel with no cooking facilities!

We again ate a picnic at Disneyland Paris, but having done prior research I was mightily impressed by the allergen-free food available. As I say, we didn’t eat any so I can’t comment on price or quality – but the information suggests there are 3 starters, 4 main courses and 3 puddings which are guaranteed free of the top 25 allergens. Most impressive – well done Disney!

On our day in Paris we ate yet another picnic which was certainly the sensible and cheaper option. We could have eaten out, but for the (non-veggie) girls this would have been ham/steak served with chips and no veg (you never seem to get vegetables served in France, despite seeing the most beautiful ones in markets). Food was fine for big S as she loves chips, but little S won’t eat them and also isn’t very keen on big quantities of meat – so she would have basically only eaten some of the baguette which is served with any meal. Not exactly value for money!

There are wonderful and extremely tempting snacks for sale in France (crepes, patisserie, viennoiserie, gorgeous ice cream, waffles, pizzas, sandwiches), but none are dairy and egg-free. Again our only options are crisps, chips, sweets if we are on the go – absolutely nothing healthy or even vaguely nutritious.

So what am I saying? Well, certainly not ‘don’t go’ – travel is such an enriching thing and especially so for those who may feel fearful of new things. Besides, Paris is so stunning and cool – how could you not want to go? I guess my biggest bit of advice is to be prepared, research in advance, make sure you can get your point across (we’re lucky because D is half French and most French people would be surprised that English is his most natural language, so no situation is a problem) and take lots of suitable and nutritious snacks to keep you going. Most of all, enjoy!

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