When we visited Vilnius for the first time, we knew we wanted to come back. This time we stopped at Kaunas as well, Lithuania’s second city.
Both cities are beautiful and great for exploring. Vegans are well-catered for in both vegan and non-vegan places, and the food is consistently delicious.
Kaunas is a small but beautiful city, with lots to explore, and friendly locals who are happy to help tourists. Amazing street art is scattered all over town, and local tourist maps point to their exact locations.
Laisveis is a wide boulevard with many bars, restaurants, and cafés. Join the queue at Spurgine to try a traditional doughnut.
Nearby is the Old Town, which leads to Kaunas Castle. Set in a park, it’s a popular weekend destination. You can also see the confluence of rivers Nemuno and Neries, a nice activity for a sunny day.
We spent time exploring the Old Town and visited Gediminas Tower for views over the city.
See and do:
The new MO modern art museum had a great exhibition marking the 700th anniversary of Vilnius, with pieces by local artists.
Uzupis is a bohemian neighbourhood which declared its independence a couple of decades ago. A nice place for a walk in the afternoon.
Halle Market is a traditional market with stalls offering both local produce and ready-made food. A delicious fresh smoothie costs only 2.50 euros.
The Open Gallery has many amazing street art pieces in an industrial area.
Food and Drink:
RoseHip Vegan Bistro: a great vegan place with plenty of delicious dishes, including the famous Lithuanian cold beetroot soup. They also have another unit, RoseHip Vegan kebabs, with plenty of other great options
Vegafe: a cool veggie restaurant with many vegan options, including Lithuanian dishes
Vieta: a small and popular vegan cafe in the Old Town
When I first visited Japan, five years ago, I didn’t realise it would take me so long to come back. But I finally did! I only had ten days to explore, which is not nearly enough, but it was wonderful wandering around Tokyo in the autumn sun.
I visited some of my favourite places and discovered a few new ones. The beautiful days meant that I saw Mount Fuji in the distance time and again. I spent my time in busy cafés and quiet parks, huge shops with loud music and small trains with quiet people. Tokyo is a whole world.
What to see and do:
I explored some of my favourite neighbourhoods. Ginza and Nihonbashi were full of Christmas decorations. Harajuku and Omotesando were bustling with life as always. Ueno park looked picture-perfect on a sunny autumn day. Yanaka was great for exploring with its cute shops and fun cafés.
In Shibuya, Christmas lights led to way to Yoyogi park. The Hikarie Hall is a good place to get views of the area, including the Scramble Crossing. It is free to visit, you just take a lift to the 11th floor.
Godzilla continues to look over the narrow streets in Shinjuku. Nearby, Tokyo Metropolitan Building has amazing views over Tokyo, and it’s free to visit. On a sunny day you can spot Mount Fuji in the distance.
Shimokitazawa is another fun area to explore, with lots of vintage shops, as well as plenty of restaurants.
Daikanyama is a cool neighbourhood with plenty of interesting shops and cafés. There’s a large branch of Tsutaya bookshop that you can spend hours exploring even without knowing Japanese. In the same area is the Asakusa Residence, an example of historical architecture with an amazing garden.
Although the famous fish market has moved to a new location, Tsukiji remains a great location to explore, with lots of stalls selling all sorts of food. It’s not particularly veggie-friendly (although there are a few options), but just taking in the atmosphere is great fun.
Asakusa always very busy with people shopping and eating treats on the way to Senso-ji temple. I like visiting in the evening when it’s quieter. Nearby, Kappabashi street has shop after shop of kitchen supplies, from famous Japanese knives to graters in every size and shape imaginable.
I visited Setagaya Boroichi market, a large local market that has taken place for 400 years. Stalls sell all sorts of old and new items, as well as plenty of food and drink. Great for shopping as well as people watching.
Nearby is Komazawa, a peaceful local neighbourhood with a beautiful park that hosted some of the Olympic events in 1964.
You can carry on to Jiyugaoka, a cute area with interesting upmarket shops and restaurants. The area is known as Little Europe, and it even includes an inexplicable replica of a small Venetian canal.
Tokyo Station is a whole city within itself, with enough shops and restaurants that you don’t even need to leave the station if you don’t want to. Character Street is full of shops selling toys and other stuff from every Japanese famous character. Nearby is Marunouchi, a beautiful area close to the Imperial Palace.
Yayoi Kusama Museum: a small but beautiful museum with plenty of amazing artworks. The bathrooms are an attraction in themselves, covered in polka dots as you’d expect in this setting. Tickets must be booked in advance.
Koishikawa Korakuen: I had been to this garden before, but it was worth visiting again to view the autumn colours. Zen gardens are always a reminder of how Japan seamlessly connects old and new, and there’s nothing like an hour in a peaceful garden in the middle of Tokyo to remind one of this duality. Korakuen garden looks absolutely stunning in autumn, with trees in all shades of yellow to red.
Kiyosumi: this was the first Japanese garden I visited when I first came to Japan. It is a beautiful garden with lots of little details to take in. By the pond, you can spot a lone crane watching while ducks sleep in the sunshine. There is a monument to Basho, which reads:
‘The sound of a frog, jumping into an old pond’
Nowhere is a haiku more fitting.
Kamakura and Enoshima: I had visited Kamakura before. It’s a nice town about one hour from Tokyo, and there are many interesting temples and shrines to explore. The Great Buddha is very impressive. Hasedera has amazing views of the sea, and the red shades of autumn made for a particularly memorable visit.
Enoshima is an island a short train ride away. You walk over the bridge to explore different locations in the island. The main draw are the amazing views of Mount Fuji, so going on a clear sunny day is ideal.
Kawagoe: Located about an hour from Tokyo, Kawagoe is known as Little Edo because of its traditional architecture. It’s a good place for a day trip, as there are lots of small shops selling traditional sweets, a famous bell tower and a couple of interesting shrines to explore.
Vegetarian food is not the norm in Japan, but many chains will have an option. There are lots of cafés around, so stopping for a drink is always a good alternative for a quick break with something light to eat.
Conveninence stores are an attraction in themselves. There’s always one around the corner, with a never-ending supply of food and snacks at cheap prices.
Ts Tantan: an old favourite, this is a popular vegan place with a few locations in Tokyo. It’s one of the best places for an easy vegan meal. It’s famous for its vegan ramen, but they also offer other options at their Jiyugaoka location.
Saryo Tsujiri, in one of the shopping centres around Tokyo Station is a great place to try matcha-based desserts. They serve amazing parfait in different styles accompanied by delicious houjicha. A perfect place for an indulgent break.
Aoyama Flower Market Tea House: a small chain with a few cafés serving delicious tea and desserts, all pretty as a picture. Their cafés are always decorated with seasonal flowers from their shops.
Wired Bonbon: a cute cafe in Shinjuku serving a great selection of vegan parfait and other desserts.
Hoshino coffee: a chain that serves simple breakfast sets with their signature coffee.
Coco Ichibanya: a Japanese curry chain with clearly labelled vegan options.
Muji cafe: for those who love this minimalist shop, their cafes (located inside some of their larger outlets) are a nice place for a break, serving a small selection of dishes, including desserts.
Mos Burger: this fast food chain has a plant-based burger and a few other veggie options. It’s a good alternative for an easy meal and a break in exploring.
I visited some of the popular local shops, like Daiso, Tokyu Hands, Loft, Muji and Uniqlo, all of which have flagship stores with more floors than you’d ever need to see.
Sousou is a shop from Kyoto, but they also have a location in Tokyo. They have lots of colourful products, including clothes and tabi shoes.
Buying tax free in Japan is really easy, with larger stores actively promoting it. You need to spend over 5000 yen at once, and there are some eligibility criteria, but it usually works well. You need to present your passport.
How to do it:
When to visit: I went in early December. It’s a great time to visit as you still get the fall colours and the weather was very mild, with 15 degrees on sunny days. Every indoor place is very well heated, so it’s best to wear a light jacket.
Visit Japan Web: a new official app that helps make covid and immigration procedures easy when you arrive in Japan.
Stay: I stayed in Tosei Hotel Cocone Kanda, a comfortable place located close to Tokyo Station with plenty of convenient transport links.
After four years, we went back to Venice for the art Biennale. As always, there was plenty to see. We booked guided tours for both venues which was really helpful in putting the different exhibits in context.
There were also plenty of collateral events happening all over the city.
We visited the European Cultural Centre which had a large collection of various artists, an exhibition by Korean artist Kwang Young Chun, and one by Ai Weiwei at San Giorgio Island that included the largest Murano glass sculpture ever made.
Just by walking around, you stumble upon plenty of exhibitions, many of them worth visiting.
See and do:
We know Venice well, so we usually choose to stay close to the Biennale venues. Giuseppe Garibaldi is the main street in the area, where you can find plenty of restaurants and bars. In the mornings, locals stop at the floating vegetable market in the canal.
We also visited Libreria Acqua Alta for the first time, an unusual bookshop where you can spot a cat drinking water in a gondola full of books.
As always, we spent a good amount of time finding good places to eat. These were our favourites:
Frary’s: a Middle Eastern restaurant serving plenty of vegan and veggie options, all delicious.
La Tecia Vegana: a vegan restaurant with a delicious selection including many Italian dishes. The orange cheesecake was amazing. You need to call them to book in advance.
Nevodi: a modern Italian restaurant with few but delicious veggie and vegan options. Reservations required. They also have a popular pizza takeaway across the road which is highly recommended.
Caffè La Serra: a beautiful cafe in a green setting, good for relaxing with a cappuccino after a day of exploring.
Panificio Spanio: a local bakery in Giardino with a great selection. You can smell the bread before you spot it, and it’s a great place to get a glimpse of local life in the morning.
Gelato di Natura: grab a delicious ice cream and have it at Campo San Giacomo, a beautiful local square to have a break and people-watch.
Where to stay:
We try to avoid the tourist crowds by staying close to the biennale venues. This time we were very close to Giardini, a nice local area with easy access to other parts of Venice.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
And I added a couple of new places to my list of favourites:
Marigoldis 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!