VEGAN BURGERS AND DUTCH MASTERPIECES: A rainy weekend in Amsterdam

We decided to go to Amsterdam for an easy weekend away by taking the Eurostar. We know the city well, so we mostly spent our time trying some of the many vegan places around.

  • De Hallen: This is a nice place to visit on a cold day. There are local shops, a food court, cinema and a street market. It’s a popular place to visit for local and tourists.
  • Rijksmuseum: to escape the rain we visited the Rijksmuseum, which has a great collection. The Gallery of Honour hosts many major Dutch masterpieces. Tickets for €20.
  • Tony’s Chocolonely: this popular chocolate brand has a superstore in the city centre where you can try all the different flavours, including limited editions.
  • Vegan Junk Food Bar: this popular place had been on my list for a while, and it did not disappoint. They have a great selection of burgers, loaded fries and more, and everything we had was great. We even came back the next day. A small feast for two for €46.
  • Juice Brothers: a good place for breakfast with a delicious selection of smoothies and bowls. An açai bowl for €9.50.
  • Go: To go from London to Amsterdam by Eurostar it takes 4h40 and it’s an easy and comfortable option. The way back requires a change in Brussels, but direct trains will be available from late April.

VEGAN FOOD AND BEAUTIFUL SCENERY: A winter break in Paris

We visited Paris for a relaxing weekend. We’ve been to Paris many times before, so we mostly spent time walking around and checking out vegan restaurants.

  • Hank Burger: this is an old favourite so we wanted to visit it again. They have a nice selection of vegan burgers and they are all delicious. Two burgers, sides and drinks for €27.
  • Hank Pizza: from the same people of Hank Burger, this vegan pizza place offers a selection of delicious pizza by the slice. A meal of two slices, salad and a drink for €13.
  • La Palanche d’Aulac: a vegan place with a good selection of Vietnamese starters and mains. Friendly service and generous portions. Dinner for two including drinks and tip for €38.
  • Cloud Cakes: this vegan café has a popular brunch on the weekends. A plentiful selection for two to share for €26. The lattes are delicious.

Musee d’Orsay: I hadn’t been to Musee d’Orsay in many years. It’s a good option for a cold day, and when we visited it wasn’t too busy. Buy tickets online to skip the queue for €15.40.

Stay: we stayed at Exe Panorama which is conveniently located very close to Gare du Nord. A good option if you’re taking the Eurostar.

2019 TRAVELLING: The year in review

I started this blog back in 2013 to document my European trips. In 2019 my husband and I finished our long-term plan of visiting every European country!

And of course there were also plenty of other adventures, as my work took me to many unexpected places.

  • In March we drank the good wine in Moldova.
  • Then I headed to Lebanon, where I got the chance to explore a little bit of Beirut.
  • In April we ate all the vegan food in Copenhagen and had a day trip to Malmo.
  • In May I discovered the beautiful Wroclaw and all its gnomes.
  • Later in May I ate all the good food in my favourite area of Rome.
  • In June we has fun exploring Plovdiv and Sofia in Bulgaria.
  • In August I had the unique opportunity to visit Afghanistan for work.
  • In September we finally did it! We completed our European adventure by visiting an amazing country, Georgia.
  • In October I went back to Kosovo, this time for work.

Another great year of many adventures!

In 2020 I’m planning to explore some of Asia and go back to my favourite country (Japan). Where will 2020 take you?

SUNNY DAYS AND OLD FAVOURITES: Christmas in Rome

This was my second Christmas in Rome. It’s a good place to visit this time of the year as there is plenty to do (including on Christmas Day itself) and the weather is very mild.

The main attractions are closed on Christmas day, but in the city centre there is plenty to do. It was a sunny day so we went for a picnic at Villa Borghese where plenty of families and tourists were enjoying a nice day out.

Attractions off the beaten track:

I know Rome well, so I prefer to avoid the crowds and check out some new sights.

  • Galleria Sciarra: a beautifully decorated building that not many tourists know about. A nice place to escape the crowds in central Rome.
  • Centrale Montemartini: This museum in an old powerhouse has an impressive collection of sculptures in a modern space. Tickets for €11.
  • I visited Palazzo Quirinale, which was hosting an exhibition about the volcanic eruptions of Pompeii and Santorini. It is a beautiful space and a nice place to check out for something different. Tickets €15 (or €8 at lunchtime during the week).

Food:

I always have a long list of food places to visit when I’m in Rome.

  • I went to explore some of my favourite places in Testaccio and Ostiense. We went to Pasticceria Andreotti for coffee, stopped for pizza at Casa Manco in Testaccio Market and finished with desert at Pasticceria Barberini.
  • Seu Pizza Illuminati: this place has been on my list for a couple of years, but it was definitely worth the wait. They serve a mix of traditional and unusual pizzas, as well as a good selection of starters and deserts. Highly recommended. Dinner for two including drinks, dessert and tip for €50. Booking essential.
  • Necci: Pigneto is an up-and-coming neighbourhood, famous for its cool cafés and shops. When we visited most things were closed for the holidays, but the popular Necci was open, so we stopped there for coffee. Two coffees and a cake for €8.80.
  • La Forchetta: a local restaurant in Prati serving a good selection of traditional Italian food. Dinner for two including drinks, dessert and tip for €52.
  • Guttilla: a gelato place serving a delicious selection of flavours (a cup for €2.20).
  • Cresci: a nice local bar with a good selection of tapas and plenty of other options. Dinner for two including drinks and tip for €30.

EXPLORING RUINS IN TULUM AND YUCATAN TRAVEL PLANNING: The end of our Mexican trip

Tulum had been on my list for years, and it lived up to my expectations. This relaxed town is famous for Mayan ruins overlooking the sea and perfect sandy beaches.

Tulum’s archaeological site is the postcard view of the town. The site opens at 8am (tickets $75) and it’s good to arrive early to beat the crowds. The site is well-preserved and picturesque. It’s located a bit off the town centre, but easily reached by taxi (we paid $90) or colectivo buses.

Near the archaeological zone are some great beaches. We visited Pescadores which is supposed to be one of the most beautiful beaches in the world (and it looks it). The water is warm and there are plenty of boat tours available. It is the perfect image of a Mexican beach that you may have in your head.

Tulum town centre is full of nice cafés, souvenir shops and plenty of veggie restaurants. We visited a couple of nice places:

  • El Vegetariano: a laid-back vegetarian restaurant in the town centre serving a selection of vegan dishes. Dinner for two including drinks and tip for $380.
  • Co.con Amor: a vegetarian restaurant set in a beautiful garden in Tulum town. Large portions and delicious food. Lunch for two including drinks and tip for $410.

HOW TO DO IT:

  • Go: Tulum is well-connected by ADO bus to the main cities in the region.
  • Stay: we stayed at Biwa which was well-located in the town centre, had good service and excellent facilities. Alternatively there are plenty of other options close to the beach as well.

TRAVELLING AROUND YUCATAN – HOW TO DO IT:

We spent ten days travelling around Mexico, and it was a great experience. This is how we did it:

  • Itinerary planning: we travelled independently, but followed broadly this itinerary. The best way to get to Yucatán is to fly to Cancun (buses connect the airport with Cancun bus station and Playa del Carmen, where you can travel on to other destinations).
  • Travelling around: We used ADO bus to get around. Tickets can be booked online from 1 to 2 months before travelling, or directly at the station. The buses are comfortable, have air-con and are generally on time. For shorter routes colectivo minibuses are available and are pretty cheap. Speaking Spanish makes travelling easier as usually people only speak basic English.
  • Money: things are cheaper than in the UK. Many places accept credit cards, but for smaller purchases cash is ideal, and low denominations is preferred.
  • Food: Mexican food has plenty of veggie dishes, but these aren’t always clearly labelled. We had no problem asking for modifications to make dishes vegan, but speaking Spanish helps. Happy Cow has good options in most places. We ate very well, and particularly enjoyed the plentiful breakfasts, horchata and vegan tacos.

A TURQUOISE LAGOON AND RUINS IN THE JUNGLE: Visiting Bacalar and Calakmul

Bacalar is famous for its beautiful lagoon of turquoise waters. It’s a picturesque place with the most amazing views.

The water in the lagoon is very warm so you can spend a long time bobbing around and trying to spot the seven shades of blue for which Bacalar is famous.

There are many places for swimming (many are paid but it’s generally cheap: we went to Balneario Magico which charged $20 and had a restaurant, parasols, boats and kayaks for hire). You can also go in a boat trip to different parts of the lagoon. We hired a kayak ($200 for one hour) to reach the Canal de los Piratas, a shallow area with very clear water.

Other than exploring the lagoon there isn’t much to do, but you can visit Fort San Felipe (tickets $100) to get great views of the lagoon. The square in front of it is lively in the evenings as there are many restaurants and stalls selling food and handicraft.

FOOD:

  • La Playita: this beautiful restaurant overlooking the lagoon offers plenty of vegan options on its menu. Food is delicious. Dinner for two including drinks and tip for $405.
  • Mango y Chile: a popular vegan place serving burgers, tacos and a great selection of smoothies. Meal for two including drinks for $390.

CALAKMUL:

We heard about Calakmul and decided we wanted to check it out. Ka’an Expeditions have a popular tour so we booked a day trip with them.

Calakmul is an impressive Mayan city in the middle of the jungle. You can climb the different pyramids to get amazing views over the jungle and Mayan buildings nearby. There are plenty of howler and spider monkeys on the trees, and you also get to see the local flora and fauna.

It gets very hot, and there are plenty of mosquitoes, but when we visited the rain helped cool us down. Calakmul is very remote so there are few tourists around. It’s a great place to visit to see Mayan ruins without the crowds.

HOW TO DO IT:

  • Stay: we stayed at Sun Ha which was well-located, had terrace views over the lagoon and friendly service.
  • Go: Bacalar can be reached by ADO bus from Merida and other popular locations in the area.
  • Calakmul: Ka’an Expeditions has day trips which include pick up from cities in the region, a four-hour walk of the site, snacks, a light lunch and entrance to the different attractions. Our guide was knowledgeable and we had plenty of time to explore.

STREET FOOD AND PAINTED FACES: Day of the Dead in Merida

We knew we wanted to experience Day of the Dead in Mexico, and Merida is the best place for it in Yucatán. There are events throughout the week, but the highlight is the Paseo de las Animas, a parade which starts at the cemetery and finishes at the city centre.

The parade itself is not huge, but the whole town becomes a huge festival where you can see decorated altars, eat lots of local street food and get your face painted. It’s an amazing experience and although there are plenty of tourists it’s still mostly locals enjoying themselves and kids running around in traditional costumes.

During the week there are plenty of other activities. We saw a display of Pok-a-Tok, the traditional Mayan ballgame.

Merida is a beautiful city with colourful architecture and a traditional centre full of nice cafés and restaurants. The historic town centre is a lively region with plenty of places to explore. Merida is a big city but there is a relaxed vibe.

Paseo de Montejo is another interesting area: a beautiful boulevard with impressive mansions and upmarket shops.

Food:

  • Organico bar & cocina: a cool café serving a varied selection of veggie dishes made with local ingredients. Highly recommended. Brunch for two including drinks and tip for $270.
  • Sorbeteria Colón: a traditional ice cream parlour serving a range of seasonal flavours. One flavour for $45.
  • Casa Savia Vegana: a vegan restaurant with friendly service offering a limited but delicious selection of local flavours. Lunch for two including drinks and tip for $250.
  • Tacos Ne: this vegan taco truck is very popular. They serve six options of tacos (all delicious) which your top up with different garnishes. A simple and yummy experience. Tacos for $15.

HOW TO DO IT:

  • Stay: we stayed at Hotel Montejo which is well-located in a beautiful building.
  • Go: we took the ADO bus from Valladolid, which took about 2h15. Merida is well-connected with other places in the region.

MAYAN RUINS AND COLOURFUL HOUSES: Exploring Chichen Itza and Valladolid

Valladolid was the first town we visited in Mexico, and it was a great starting point. The town centre is pretty, with lots of little shops painted in bright colours. During the day students hang around the town centre and in the evening people go to the main square for a walk.

There are plenty of shops selling local handicraft, busy restaurants and street food stalls.

Yerbabuena del Sisal: a vegetarian restaurant serving a varied selection of delicious local dishes. Lunch for two including drinks and tip for $335. This restaurant is located at the end of a pretty street which is definitely worth exploring.

Wabi Gelato: a small gelato shop selling amazing flavours. The guava was particularly great. A small cup for $40.

Las Campanas is a popular restaurant by the main square. Vegan options are limited but delicious. Dinner for two including drinks and tip for $450.

Chichen Itza

These famous ruins are the most popular attraction in Yucatán. The site is impressive: aside from the pyramid that is instantly recognisable, there are plenty of other great buildings to visit.

You can cover the whole site in about three hours, and you should arrive there early to beat the crowds and explore before it’s unbearably hot.

Valladolid is a good starting point if you want to get to Chichen Itza early. We got the first collectivo bus from Valladolid at 7am (tickets for the bus for $35), getting into the archaeological site just before doors open at 8am (tickets to the site for $480).

HOW TO DO IT:

  • Go: Getting to Valladolid right after a transatlantic flight is a long journey (that’s what we did). From the Cancun airport, you can take the ADO bus to Cancun bus station, then another ADO bus to Valladolid (the trip takes about 3h). Another option is to stay overnight at Playa del Carmen and then take a bus to Valladolid.
  • Stay: we stayed at Hotel Catedral which was well-located and staff was very friendly.

PLANNING IN ADVANCE AND RESEARCHING LOCAL CUSTOMS: My travel checklist

The other day I wrote about how I find that having a standard travel routine helps make travel planning easier.

So I decided to write my list of the things I do for my trips – but of course depending on the trip you may not need to spend much time on these things.

1. Travel-related activities to do before you even know where you’re going:

These are best-practice things that you will want to have in place at all times.

  • Ensure your passport is valid and renew it 6 months before the expiry date
  • Save a photo of your passport to your email so that you can always retrieve it
  • Always have valid multi-trip travel insurance
  • Get a credit card that doesn’t charge extra for using abroad

2. Planning a trip:

When you decide where you’re going and start planning a trip, these are the key things you will want to do:

  • Book flights (inform of special meal requirements)
  • Book time off from work
  • Research and plan itinerary
  • Book accommodation
  • Book any activities/excursions (inform of special meal requirements)
  • Book any local transportation (buses, trains) or research what the options are

3. Get the paperwork sorted:

These things are boring but crucial to do.

  • Check visa requirements (and apply for visa if needed)
  • Check if any vaccinations/anti-malarials/other health-related preparation is advised
  • Buy local currency if you can (or research how to buy it in country) and check if credit cards are widely accepted

3. Do your local research

  • Use Google maps and download offline maps of the places you are visiting
  • Add local spots you want to visit to Google Maps
  • Check Happy Cow for vegetarian and vegan options
  • Make reservations and check opening times to any restaurant, show or attraction you won’t want to miss
  • Check if tap water is safe to drink
  • Research the local tipping etiquette
  • Check the local weather forecast
  • Check the local dress code (not required for most trips!)
  • Read about local security measures (not required for most trips!)
  • Check if your mobile will work and what the charges may be

4. Pack

I use my ultimate packing list.

5. Final preparations

  • Check in as early as possible and print or download the boarding pass
  • Print any essential paperwork (vouchers you may need, instructions to give to a driver at the airport)
  • Research transportation from the airport
  • Sometimes hotels/tour operators/Airbnb hosts ask you to confirm your arrival in advance, so keep them informed

6. Unpack

I always unpack as soon as I’m back home, this is how I know I’ve fully arrived!

What are your tips on preparing for a trip?

10 tips on visiting every European country when you work full-time

I have recently completed my long-term goal of visiting every single European country. Many people ask me how I’ve done it while working full-time. Here are my tips:

1. Good planning is important

I do all my travel planning on a spreadsheet – I realise this is not necessarily the most fun way to do it, but it makes life easy when you’re planning multiple trips at the same time. I keep a list of where I want to go, how many days I plan to stay there and how many holiday days I will need to use.

2. Save your holiday allowance as much as possible

In the UK we have pretty good holiday allowance, but if you’re travelling pretty much every month (that is what I did for a while), you will need to keep track of your holidays. This means making good use of bank holidays and planning ahead to get good prices even at busy times.

3. Get an early flight

One way to use as little holiday days as possible in your travels is to book flights late in the evening or early in the morning. You can leave work on a Friday straight to the airport and come back to work on Monday morning from Poland, France, and many other places. The downside is that these trips can be quite tiring, as waking up at 4am in Latvia then going to work in London is not the most relaxing commute!

4. Visit the capital cities

Different places have different things to offer, but in general capital cities are the gateway to a country, particularly where you don’t have a large tourism industry. I’m an urban soul, so that worked well for me.

5. Always book ahead

Most of my European trips were weekends or long weekends, which meant that it was usually best to book flights as soon as I decided on a date for a trip. For hotels you don’t need to book as early, but particularly in big cities it might be worth doing that to ensure that you can choose the perfect location.

6. Follow a system

Besides my travel spreadsheet, I also have a standard packing list and a general routine that I follow when I’m travelling. This means that I don’t have to spend a lot of time thinking about logistics every time that I’m travelling.

7. Enjoy the challenge

Travelling is amazing, but not everyone likes planning trips, packing, and other holiday preparation. When you’re going to 50-odd countries though, it’s much better to enjoy the whole process! This also helps when you get towards the end and start planning trips to more inaccessible places.

8. Visit multiple countries in a single trip

We visited Finland and Estonia in one trip and the Balkans in two trips covering multiple countries. Smaller countries are easy to visit as a longer trip, and you get to see many different places at once. Just make sure to research the border crossings in advance (for example, you can’t travel from Kosovo into Serbia).

9. Bring a buddy

I love travelling by myself, but going through this amazing adventure with my husband was even better! On a more practical level, travelling with someone else is always cheaper.

10. It’s all about having fun!

Even though I have visited every European country, I also travelled to many countries I’d visited before in the same period. I wasn’t trying to complete a challenge as quickly as possible. I did it because it was fun: I like going to new places, so every new trip was an opportunity to discover somewhere different!