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.

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.

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?

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!

EXPLORING NEW FAVOURITES AND SELF CARE: What I learnt by visiting every European country

A few years ago, my husband and I decided to visit every European country. We work full-time, so years of weekend trips, 6am flights returning straight to work and many adventures followed! We have now completed our big European tour – it was so much fun! 

Here are my reflections on this experience: 

1. If you stick with your goal for long enough you can achieve it

Looking at a list of 50-ish countries years ago and deciding to visit all of them, it seemed like a huge thing to do. But once we started going to places, little by little the list got smaller and we realised that our idea was very much possible.

2. The old favourites are still favourites

We visited lots of new countries, but we also went back again and again to some of our favourite places. When people ask me about my top places, some obvious choices appear: Berlin, Paris and Barcelona are always fun!

3. But we discovered new favourites too

Vilnius in Lithuania is a cool town with a good craft beer scene. Taking the train across Transylvania was a memorable journey around scenic towns. Visiting Donetsk for the 2012 Euros (before the war) stayed with us: a unique experience of spending a lot of time in a place that doesn’t have many tourists.

4. Historical events come to life

We loved the Balkans. The Old Town of Mostar was beautiful, Croatia has amazing views, Tirana is great for bars and cafes. But travelling across the region, its history comes to life. Bosnia and Kosovo are still recovering from war. Visiting these places makes them more real.

5. Your world gets a little bigger

We often buy Romanian snacks from our corner shop, and we see familiar places in Scandi crime shows. All the places we visited are now part of our lives, and this experience means that we see the world in a different way.

6. You learn something about yourself when you travel

Travelling is probably my favourite thing to do, and I always learn something when I travel. This quote from recent Nobel laureate Olga Tokarczuk sums it up beautifully:

“When you’re travelling you need to take care of yourself to get by, you have to keep an eye on yourself and your place in the world. It means concentrating on yourself, thinking about yourself and looking after yourself. So when you travel all you really encounter is yourself, as if that were the whole point of it. When you’re at home you simply are, you don’t have to struggle with anything or achieve anything.”

Olga Tokarczuk

7. There is always more to explore

When I tell people I’ve now visited every European country, they often ask me what my next goal is. But of course you are never really done with travelling – there are always more places to see. Within Europe, the waterfalls of Plitvice and the national parks of Iceland have been on my list for a long time. And of course there’s a whole world out there to explore too!