THERMAL BATHS AND MIDNIGHT SUN: Summer in Reyjavik

I loved Reykjavik the first time I visited, and coming back in the summer was another great opportunity to explore. I’m already thinking of going back!

City Centre

Reykjavik has a small but vibrant city centre, with plenty of restaurants, cafes and shops to explore. Spend some time walking around Laugavegur (I ended up buying a coat at Icewear) or stopping at the local sights.

  • Hallgrimskirkja: This church that can be spotted across Reykjavik is a great viewpoint. Take the lift to the bell tower on a sunny day for the best views of the city centre and its colourful architecture.
  • Harpa: The famous Opera house is an attraction in itself, an impressive feature of the Reykjavik coast. Nearby is the Sun Voyager, a sculpture of a Viking ship overlooking the sea.

Nautholsvik Geothermal Beach

A bit off the city centre, this beach is popular with locals, with three heated areas for swimming, including a hot pool where you can keep warm even in the winter. Entry is free in the summer, and there are lockers to rent for a small fee. Nearby is Perlan, a museum set in within a beautiful local park.

Food and drink

  • Mama Reykjavik: A vegan restaurant in a central location with a varied selection. The famous cheesecake is delicious.
  • Gardurinn: A friendly place with a homely feel serving generous portions of a small and tasty daily menu.
  • Vegan World Peace: An Asian restaurant with a big selection of tasty dishes.
  • Chickpea: A veggie cafe serving generous portions of falafels and other sandwiches.
  • Skuli: A cool bar with an impressive selection of local and imported beers.

How to do it

We booked flights, accommodation and excursions through Icelandair, as it is simple to organise a trip through their website. It is very easy to travel around Iceland, as different travel agencies all coordinate tours with local hotels.

There are different options to choose from, but all offer similar options. Reykjavik Excursions is one of the main local providers.

We stayed at Icelandair Hotel Reykjavik Natura (slightly off the city centre, but still within walking distance). The breakfast was generous and delicious, and the spa was worth a visit (great price for about £18).

WHALE-WATCHING AND THERMAL BATHS: Exploring Iceland in the summer

I had been to Iceland before. Then, it was a winter trip to see the northern lights. It was a memorable holiday, and I knew I wanted to return for a summer adventure, when milder weather makes it easier to explore the island.

Whale-Watching

I’ve always wanted to go whale-watching, and a milestone birthday celebration in Iceland was the perfect opportunity. It is an excellent place for whale watching in the summer, when the chances of spotting different species are very high.

We saw humpback and minke whales, as well as dolphins – all surrounded by playful puffins and the atmospheric landscape of the coast off Reyjkavik.

After a couple of hours of spotting these beautiful animals, the boat returned to the harbour and we decided to warm up in the cafe below deck. As we sat down and watched seagulls bobbing in the sea, a minke whale swam by a couple of times, mostly unnoticed by others around us, and we marvelled at this little private show.

Whales of Iceland experience

Our whale-watching trip also included tickets to the Whales of Iceland, a museum with life-size models of whales. It is a good attraction to go to right after seeing the animals in real life, but a short visit is sufficient.

The exhibition is located inside a warehouse in an area full of independent shops and restaurants, and a stop at the local chocolate factory Omnom is a must. It is a popular stop where you can buy a huge variety of chocolate bars and try their delicious ice cream.

Golden Circle and the Secret Lagoon

Not far from Reyjkavik, the Golden Circle is a popular region to visit, with many iconic highlights from Iceland.

Our tour started at Þingvellir National Park, which is where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates meet. We then visited Strokkur Geyser, located in an area full of thermal activity, where hot water and steam spouts from the ground at regular intervals.

The next step was Gullfoss, a huge waterfall with amazing views.

The tour ended at the Secret Lagoon, a thermal pool that is perfect for a relaxing break at the end of a day of exploring. It is smaller and less busy than the famous Blue Lagoon, but you benefit from fewer tourists and a more authentic experience.

How to do it

It is very easy to book different tours in Iceland, as all the main companies work with hotels to coordinate everything. We booked both of our tours with Icelandair when planning our trip. The whale-watching trip was done with Special Tours and we visited the Golden Circle with Reykjavik Sightseeing.

SUNNY DAYS AND DELICIOUS FOOD: Spring in Rome

This was my first European break since the start of the pandemic! As I do when I’m in Rome, I spent a lot of time trying new food and visiting some old favourites.

Garbatella, Ostiense and Testaccio

My favourite area of Rome is around Testaccio and Ostiense. This time I also spent some time exploring Garbatella, another local neighbourhood. There you will find the Mercatino Usato, a second-hand shop where you can spend hours among all sorts of antiques.

I visited some of my favourite places in the area: Andreotti for coffee and pastries, Mercato Testaccio for the amazing pizza of Casa Manco, and Fraschetta di Mastro Giorgio for a delicious dinner.

And I added a couple of new places to my list of favourites:

  • Marigold is the best place for an upscale brunch, with countless options of delicious treats (the tebirke is highly recommended)
  • Pizzeria Ostiense not only serves amazing pizza (and the best potato croquette), but it’s also an ideal place for people-watching.

Not far from Testaccio is the beautiful Giardino degli Aranci, a garden with amazing views over the city. It is next to the Buco di Roma, where you get an impressive view of St Peter’s Basilica through a keyhole.

Trastevere

Trastevere is a popular area for dining, and although I try to stay away from the places with the long queues of tourists, there are many good stops around.

  • Seu Pizza Illuminati is one of my favourites, with a long menu of unusual and consistently delicious flavours. You will need to book in advance.
  • Ivo a Trastevere was a lucky find, perfect for a break after a long walk.
  • Otaleg is a small and popular gelato shop that has a great selection of ice cream flavours.

On Sundays, the Porta Portese market takes over the streets, with countless stalls selling all sorts of mostly Chinese goods. It’s worth a visit, but you might not want to stay very long.

I also spend a lot of time walking around new and old places, as Rome is a great city to explore on foot. Around Campo di Fiori we had gelato at Marave, which has a great selection of flavours, including a signature one which is worth trying.

Terrazza des Etoiles is a hotel bar and restaurant that is also open to the public. Grab a drink with an amazing view over St Peter’s basilica, and enjoy a moment of calm away from the crowds.

BEAUTIFUL VIEWS AND VEGAN FOOD: 3 days in Bristol

We decided to go to Bristol for a city break. The city is hilly but easy to explore on foot. There is plenty to see and do just by walking around and exploring.

Harbourside is a good area to visit. There are plenty of bars and restaurants around, or you can spend some time wandering around M Shed, a museum about Bristol (and the current location of the Colston statue that was taken down by protesters).

Clifton is another good place to explore. The area where the famous bridge is located is full of nice cafes and restaurants. The bridge itself is set in a picturesque location, and it’s definitely worth a visit.

Banksy is from Bristol and you can see some of his artwork around the city. This site has maps and locations. There is also great street art by other artists all over the city.

FOOD:

Bristol has lots of veggie and vegan places, and pretty much every restaurant clearly advertises vegan options.

  • Koocha Mezze Bar: a persian-inpired vegan place with an amazing selection of unique mezze. Dinner for two including drinks and tip for £44.
  • Cafe Kino: a vegan cooperative with a good selection of food. Breakfast for two for £23.
  • Left Handed Giant: A microbrewery and bar in a picturesque setting by the river.
  • Om Burger: A vegan buger place with large portions and delicious food. Burgers for £10-12, fries for £4.
  • Eden Cafe: A cozy vegan cafe serving a great selection of healthy dishes. A generous brunch for two for £33.
  • Canteen: a bar with a fully veggie menu (the tempeh wings were amazing).
  • Oowee: a vegan burger place with big portions and plenty of yummy options. The lunchtime deal costs £8.50, or a large burger with a side and drink for £13-15.
  • Emmeline: A beautiful cafe in Stokes Croft with plenty of veggie and vegan options. Breakfast for two for £13.

GO:

There are many different areas in Bristol. We stayed in this Airbnb in Stokes Croft, an area full of street art with plenty of cool bars and restaurants.

Bristol is 1h30 by train from London Paddington Station.

ROOFTOP SWIMMING AND VEGAN CAFES: three days in relaxing Bath

We decided to go to Bath for a few days to enjoy the end of the British summer. I hadn’t been to Bath in many years, so it was a good time for a visit.

The picturesque city centre is a UNESCO Heritage Site, and it’s nice to just walk around and explore, stopping at Bath Abbey and the Crescent, going for a walk by the river for views of Pulteney Bridge or having coffee at one of the many cafés.

Bath is famous for its thermal water. Thermae Bath Spa is a popular spa with two large thermal pools, including a rooftop one with views over the historical centre. Entry, on a first come first served basis, costs £37 on weekdays for two hours.

FOOD:

  • Oak: a great place for a special meal, serving mostly vegan dishes. Dinner for two including drinks, dessert and tip for £65
  • Green Rocket: a vegan café just a few minutes away from the station, with a great selection of delicious food. Lunch for two including drinks and tip for £30
  • Cascara: a small vegan café with a nice selection of sandwiches. Lunch for two for £22
  • Indian Temptation: a vegetarian Indian restaurant overlooking Bath Abbey. Dinner for two including drinks and tip for £40
  • Thaikhun: a Thai place with plenty of vegan options. Dinner for two including drinks and tip for £36
  • Fudge Kitchen: a small shop with a good selection of fudge flavours, always including a vegan option. We had the chocolate one which was delicious. A generous slab for £5.50

HOW TO DO IT:

Bath is only 1h30 from London, and trains leave Paddington station every hour or so. Advance return tickets for £40. The city centre is easily covered on foot.

SUNSHINE BY THE THAMES: A Weekend in Twickenham

We decided to spend the weekend in Twickenham for a change of scenery. The area has plenty of local restaurants, particularly around Church Street, and there are lots of green spaces by the Thames. We were lucky with the weather, so we enjoyed plenty of time in the sunshine by the river.

The beautiful garden around York House is a popular option. You can grab a coffee at The Stables Café to drink by the river at Marble Hill Park, or take a walk on the Thames path and cross the river to reach Richmond.

We took advantage of the recent changes to local restrictions to visit local food places:

  • Sidra: a Lebanese café serving a great selection of mezze. Very generous portions. Lunch for two for £21.
  • Ruben’s Bakehouse: a local bakery and pizza place. The long queue in the morning was a great sign, and I was not disappointed. Great selection of pastries and bread.
  • Avocado & Lemon: a nice place for brunch with plenty of delicious vegan options. Brunch for two for £24.
  • Thakers: a veggie South Indian street food place with a great selection. Takeaway meal for two (with plenty of leftovers) for £39.

It was great having a little holiday, even without going far. I can’t wait for more of this in the near future!

2020 TRAVELLING: The year in review

At the end of every year, I write a reflection about my travels. This was a very different year and so is this review.

January and February started as planned, with short trips to Paris and Amsterdam, where we didn’t do much other than enjoy all our favourite local vegan spots.

By March, the world was a different place. I had booked trips to Thailand and Japan, and I had many other ambitions plans. Instead, I stayed home and watched the occasional plane fly by, wondering about the lives of the people who were still going places.

This year reminded me that most of all, I love cities. When people started taking tentative holidays to European resorts, I didn’t. My favourite metropolises were never free of restrictions. I stayed in, but still connected with many of the places I’ve visited.

Travel changes us. All the places I visited are now part of me too, and I’ve used my time at home this year to bring those places closer to me.

I cooked Japanese food and drank green tea. I read Elif Shafak’s “10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World”, which made me want to go back to Istanbul. When I saw a Chinook helicopter flying by, helping transport coronavirus patients, I thought of Afghanistan, where they served a very different purpose. I remembered a warm evening by the bay in Beirut when I heard about the explosion that destroyed the beautiful city. I bought panettone as I couldn’t spend another Christmas in Rome.

Travelling is an identity, and it is also a huge privilege. This being a normal year, by now I would have come home from many months of travelling. Instead I’m happy I get to plan future travels for another time.

In the words of Maya Angelou:

You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.

I don’t know where 2021 will take me, but I hope at some point, I’ll be off on a plane again – I can’t wait!

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?