BUSTLING STREETS AND MOUNT FUJI IN THE DISTANCE: December in Japan

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.

Japanese gardens:

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.

Day trips:

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. 

Food:

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.
  • Shiro-Hige’s Cream Puff Factory: a cafe famous for its cute and delicious Totoro-shaped cream puffs. It gets busy, so it’s a good idea to arrive early.
  • 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.

Shopping:

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.

CONTEMPORARY ART AND SCENIC VIEWS: Visiting the Venice Art Biennale

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.

Food:

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.

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).

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.

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.