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 ├×ingvellir 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.