Green City Escape: Reykjavik

Summer in Iceland (read: July) may seem a bit of an oxymoron. After all, the country is well known for its icy landscape offering everything from snow-covered caves, volcanic treks and geysers, to the infamous bubbling Blue Lagoon. But if you’re looking to explore its capital city, Reykjavik, on its own, summer is your best bet, when warm(er) temperatures allow you to explore on foot all there is to offer in this quirky city.  And 24-hour sunlight through July gives you more daytime hours to explore. Flights from the US are relatively inexpensive, especially if you choose to do a stopover between the US and Europe.

Eat

Maybe it’s that summer never entirely settles in Iceland or the short-winter days, but the capital city is crammed full of colorful, cozy cafes and shops. Here you’ll find ones serving traditional Icelandic foods from fermented shark to hot dogs. Yes, hot dogs! There are numerous street stands through the city.

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Walk the narrow streets of the city exploring the many cafe’s, shops, and bookstores. A trip to the National Museum of Iceland will tell you all about viking history. You can also try one of the many geothermal hot springs located within and just outside of the city.

Sleep

Reykjavik has a variety of accommodation types from hostels to Airbnb. If you’re looking for an affordable option, Airbnb is the way to go. You can find one in the city center or 101 or just outside of the center. It may be worth paying a bit more to walk to everywhere. Uber and Lyfts don’t exist here.

If you’re looking to explore outside of Reykjavik, you can arrange a tour online or rent a car to the Secret Lagoon or drive along the Golden Circle, which loops around giving you access to waterfalls, geysers and geothermal springs.

5 plastic straw alternatives the environment will thank you for

Whether you believe in climate change or not, environmental pollution is real. Marine pollution from man-made industrial particles and agricultural practices account for approximately 80% of marine pollution, globally, according to the United Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) web site. In the U.S. alone, over 500,000,000 plastic straws are used each day, according to the Plastic Pollution Coalition.

As of 2018, six American cities have either banned or limited the use of plastic straws in restaurants. The New York City council is considering a current proposal to ban straws all over the city.  In 2019, the U.K. will become the first country to ban plastic straws.

So, before you grab that beach daiquiri or soda with the bendy straw, consider one of these plastic straw alternatives that you can pack in your beach bag alongside your sunblock and sunnies.

Paper. Paper straws are the easiest and cheapest alternative to plastic straws. They’re perfect for adding a bit of color to parties and usually come in a variety of colors and designs and can be disposed of after each use while not causing any potential harm to the environment. This is also the best kid-friendly option. Try Creative Converting paper straws sold at major retailers like Target and Walmart.

Glass. For grown up use only, these straws are perfect for all temperature drinks. They

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can be washed and re-used. Check out mightynest.com’s selection of glass straws in both straight and bent styles.

Stainless steel. Refrigerators, countertops, cutlery, straws. This material is easily washable and reused and straws from stainless steel can be straight or bent. They can also be found at mightynest.com. Like special occasion dishes, they should be brought out during events.

Bamboo. It seems these days that bamboo can be made into anything from furniture to clothing and dish ware. Add straws to the mix and you get a cool reusable, sustainable straw that will eventually breakdown and not contribute to the landfill. Bamboo straws also have the shortest lifespan, so may be used for people who crave an all-natural alternative. Try these Buluh straws on Amazon.

Silicone. Easy to use and washable, this is the latest material used in making drinking straws. It’s more durable and insulated, perfect for use in hot and cold drinks.

If you have to have plastic over paper, check out Eco-Products. The site sells renewable and compostable plastic straws in solid and multi-striped colors. They also sell biodegradable flat ware and food storage containers.

The importance of being a peach

Peaches may not be giant nor have the ability to magically transport us across realms, but they are as equally important as watermelon, pineapple and berries when it comes to healthy summer fruit. The fuzzy, sometimes white, sometimes peach fruit from the Prunus persica tree, is chock full of vitamins A and C and has fewer than 70 calories and three grams of fiber. peach-932777_1920

Originally from Asia, the origin of the fruit in America dates back to 1571, when Franciscan friars introduced them to St. Simons and Cumberland islands along Georgia’s coast, according to the Georgia Peach Council’s website. Since then, they have remained a popular fruit ultimately earning Georgia the “Peach State” moniker. Peaches are now grown in 47 U.S. states and come in two main varieties (white and yellow flesh).

Here are 10 ways a peach is the ultimate summer fruit.

  1. A ripe peach is perfect on a hot summer day
  2. It can be used in recipes from pies and salads to meat dishes
  3. It can be eaten raw or cooked
  4. Can help improve vision
  5. Improves digestion
  6. Has anti-aging properties
  7. Has a pleasant, fragrant smell
  8. Can be spread on toast
  9. Can aid in hyperactivity
  10. It’s soft and delicious

Peaches come in many varieties and can be enjoyed fresh, frozen, dried, canned and in jelly form. When choosing canned peaches look for labels with “packed in its own juice,” “lite,” or “no sugar added.” These are healthier choices.

 

For more information on the fruit, check out Georgia Peach Council and National Peach Council’s websites. Click here for recipe ideas.

 

Once forgotten, the U.S. virgin islands offer American paradise close to home

Looking at a map, the trio of small islands to the South East of Puerto Rico look like a trail of island breadcrumbs leading downward toward Venezuela and cozying up to the British Isles. The U.S. Virgin Islands were once sleepy islands passed over by Columbus on his voyages of “discovery. ” They later became chess pieces——sold to the U.S. in a rushed deal from Denmark to keep the rolling hills and white sand coasts out of the hands of Nazi Germany during WW1. The Danish West Indies became a U.S. territory in March 1917. This year celebrates their centennial birthday.

One hundred years later, the islands of St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix are bursting with a unique history, culture, food and activities—-with caribbean, Danish and mainland American influences. I flew to St. Thomas during spring break along with members of my immediate family to attend the wedding of a family friend. It was the perfect excuse to get reacquainted with the island after a 20-year-hiatus. In my absence, I noticed a great deal had changed on the island, including an influx of Americans living and working there.

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View of Havensight in Downtown Charlotte Amalie.

I spent many spring breaks on the island as a child. Therefore, the week I spent in St. Thomas was a bit like coming home for me. Back then, my parents had a timeshare in Bolongo Bay Beach Resort in Bolongo Bay. This time around we chose higher ground renting out a villa in Blackbeard’s Hill, west of the capital, Charlotte Amalie. McLaughin Anderson Luxury Villas offers a sweeping view from the center of the island and is located close to Magen’s Bay and Mahogany Run Golf Course. The four-bedroom property we chose includes rooms with en suite, a private pool and full kitchen with washer and dryer.

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Entrance to the villa with a view of an uninhabited island.

The flight to the island was a quick three-and-a-half hour ride from Washington, DC. The airport is located in St. Thomas, but services all three of the U.S. Virgin Islands as well as the British Virgin Islands. American citizens do not require a passport to board a flight but are required to go through customs when exiting the island.

We began our trip by shaking off the winter storm we left and settling into our temporary home. After a quick trip to the neighborhood supermarket for some local fare, we relaxed poolside on our deck soaking up the sun. The next two days were filled with pre-wedding events at the Marriott at Frenchman’s Reef. When we had a day to ourselves we decided to get reacquainted with the streets of downtown Charlotte Amalie, also the capital of the Virgin islands, exploring the alleyways past luxury jewelry stores, high end clothing shops and restaurants. We were lucky to be able to explore on a day when there were no cruise ships docked, so streets weren’t crowded with tourists. The area is very walkable and includes an open air market perfect for practicing your bartering skills.

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Magen’s Bay

Our first trip to the beach was at Magen’s Bay, one of the most popular beaches on the island. Its white sand, calming water and relaxed atmosphere and bar brings people from all over the island for swimming and snorkeling. The entrance fee is affordable at five dollars for non residents and includes parking. Other public beaches on the island are free and many are included in the resort fee.

On land the island offers a number of unique activities including tours of blackbeard’s castle, a world-class golf course, skydiving and zip lining.

Getting around on the  island is easy without a car. Taxi vans are located everywhere and will take you most places for less than $12 a person. If you decide to rent a car, be aware of the streets winding through hills. People are required to drive on the left side of the road and steering wheels are on the left, which can cause a bit of confusion to visitors.

Traveling to one of the other two islands is a breeze. If you want to visit St. John, it’s a quick ferry ride from either Red Hook Bay or downtown Charlotte Amalie for six or twelve dollars, respectively. The ferry also goes to Tortola, British Virgin Islands. Traveling to St. Croix involves a slightly longer trip on a seaplane.

There is no shortage of things to do and discover on the islands. Visiting the U.S. Virgin Islands  is a great option for those especially coming from the East Coast, where its a short flight. The beaches, historic places and sports options are amazing and plentiful. And you never have to leave the country.

For more information on the events and festivities celebrating Transfer Day, check out the site. Click on this link for the best places to visit and things to do in the USVI.

17 fabulous ways water makes us happy

A glass of cold water with lime. A steep waterfall. A luxuriously scented bubble bath. Water is all around us. It can help to calm and to clear our minds, relieving stress and anxiety. Ancient peoples have looked at water as a powerful source of birth and renewal. It’s no wonder it’s the one vital thing we need to survive. As we begin a new year, one full of new energy and possibility, we can invoke the ancient healing power of water to be happier.

Marine biologist Wallace J. Nichols wrote about the transcendental effects of water in his book, Blue Mind: The surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On or Under Water Can Make you Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What you Do (Little, Brown and Company, 2014). In it, he combines scientific explanations with personal stories of people who have experienced life-altering changes from being near or in water.

Here are 17 ways you can surround yourself with water. So, go ahead and take a plunge, a toe-dip, a boat ride or a chic beach vacation and feel happier.  detox-684107_1920

  1. Drink cold water from a carafe
  2. Sing in the rain
  3. Swim in an infinity pool
  4. Catch a wave
  5. Water a plant
  6. Bathe in scented oil (try Floating Island Luxury Bath Oil by Lush Cosmetics)
  7. Bathe in sea salt (try Calm Dead Sea Bath Salts by Margaret Elizabeth)
  8. Watch fish swim in an aquatic tank
  9. Stand in a waterfall
  10. Wash your hands (try Shea butter Liquid Soap-Verbena by L’Occitane) aquariums-1867308_1920
  11. Take a hot shower
  12. Get a pedicure (for added benefit, try a variation with milk and honey or chocolate)
  13. Shampoo your hair (anything with lavender, mint or honey)
  14. Plug in a tabletop fountain
  15. Relax near a public fountain
  16. Take a cruise
  17. Have a hot or cold cup of tea

 

 

10 uses for coconut oil before 9 a.m.

With the myriad of articles that have been published touting the benefits and multiple uses of coconut oil, it’s no wonder coconut oil users feel are obsessed with this natural oil. It can be used as a skin and hair moisturizer, a cooking oil, makeup remover and a bug repellent, to name a few. But how many more ways can we incorporate coconut oil into our daily lives? I’ve pulled from some sources and found some awesome ways to add a bit of the essential oil to your healthy morning routine.

  1. Coconut oil as coffee creamer. A teaspoon or so of oil can be added to your morning coffee as a natural sweetener. Note: The American Heart Association recommends no more than 13 grams of saturated fat, one tablespoon (found in coconut oil) per day.
  2. Coconut oil can be used to make a natural soap that is both moisturizing and antibacterial.
  3. After showering, try slathering up with oil to damp skin before toweling off.
  4. If you prefer baths, add a teaspoon of oil to your bath along with an essential oil like lavender.
  5. Use coconut oil as deodorant as an alternative to store brands that often contain harsh chemicals.
  6. Coconut oil as face moisturizer. Cleanse your face and add oil to moisturize dry winter skin.
  7. Or use coconut oil as a cleanser using the oil cleanse method by applying coconut oil to your face and then following with a warm, wet cloth.
  8. Mix coconut oil, lemon juice and a dollop of your favorite essential oil to naturally strengthen eyelashes while you sleep.
  9. Coconut oil as toothpaste. Apply to teeth along with baking soda and essential oils as a naturally cleansing alternative.
  10. Apply a bit of oil to chapped lips.

Sources: health.com, wellnessmama.com

4 essential items to keep you healthy while traveling

When it comes to luxury travel, nothing is more synonymous than the color green. Both the color of money and nature, it symbolizes growth, harmony, freshness and energy. Until recently, “green” or “eco-travel” meant roughing it in a rainforest with a camouflage backpack, plastic water bottle and a map of local hostels. The more recent “discovery” that eco-travel could be more than glamping (glamorous camping) has opened a new world of travel and with it, new must-haves from low-cost to expensive.  Here are a few of my favorite finds.

Bamboo Travel Pillow

If you’re like me, you struggle with finding a comfortable seating position on a plane. This ultra comfy neck pillow contains memory foam to conform to your ideal resting position. It’s made from bamboo, a renewable plant, so it’s also good for the environment and the perfect size for a carry on. (www.hotelcomfort.com)

Compression Socks 

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Long-distance flights over the Atlantic or across a continent can wreak havoc on your sleep, sense of time and most importantly, your circulation. Compression socks help to improve your circulation by providing pressure to your ankles and lower legs helping to circulate blood flow to your heart. There are many colors and varieties to choose from.  A Google search will reveal many options. Check out Amazon to compare styles and prices.  (www.amazon.com)

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Source: honeydewnaturals.com

Essential Oils

From calming lavender to energy-boosting peppermint, every essential oil comes with healing properties.  They can help you to rest, reduce anxiety while traveling, or even improve your memory. All very helpful when you’re away from home.(www.amazon.com)

Coconut Oil

This multi-use oil, also considered an essential oil, works as a skin and hair moisturizer and anti-bacterial agent. It’s great on your skin in the winter alone or added to your favorite moisturizer. You can find it at most drug stores, beauty stores and Amazon.

The miracle of flax seed

Although the existence of magic can be debated, flax seed has truly magical properties. This tiny, ancient seed is believed to help lower cholesterol, prevent heart disease and breast cancer and even squash hot flashes. More than 300 new products containing flax seed were introduced in the U.S. and Canada in 2010, according to the Flax Council. So, why aren’t we eating more of this miracle seed?

Flax seed contains omega 3s, fiber, protein, and antioxidants. And the best way to extract these vital nutrients is by grinding the seeds and adding them to your favorite yogurt, oatmeal, and smoothies. Healthyflax.org recommends two tablespoons of flax daily.

Flax seeds can be a great addition to many types of dishes. In fact, many healthy, sweet and savory recipes can be found on Eatingwell.com’s site. Check them out here.

Green city escape: Kyoto

 

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Cherry blossoms decorate a traditional home in Kyoto, Japan.

Few cities in Asia are as charming as Kyoto in Japan. The ancient Japanese capital offers much to green seekers from a bamboo forest to nature hikes and outdoor floating cafes and hot springs. All of this is cloaked in a historic city full of temples and shrines. If you visit Japan and seek a quiet refuge from Osaka, this is the place to be. You can choose to stay in any of the many areas of the city and base your itinerary on the local attractions. And it’s super safe so feel free to explore the city at night with many business owners and locals that speak English.

Eat 

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Soybean doughnuts for sale.

Kyoto is home to Buddhist monks, and as such, many restaurants and cafes are known for its vegetarian fare (kyo yasai), with tofu being the rule, rather than the exception. Enjoy a variety of tofu and veggie dishes including miso soup, vegetable tempura, yuba (skin of heated soy milk) and a brown sea veggie called hijiki.

Explore

Kyoto is also home to thousands of Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines. In fact, there are more than 2,000 within the city. Start your journey at Teramachi Street, home to Nishiki Tenmangu Shrine and numerous other shrines and temples, then move to areas like Gion, where you can also explore a bit of Geisha history.

After exploring the many temples and shrines, take a stroll through the Bamboo Grove in the Arashiyama area of Kyoto. Here, you can walk through towering bamboo stalks winding past small shrines and temples, leading uphill to Okochi-Sanso Villa.

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Bamboo Forest in Arashiyama.

Sleep

Sleep in a traditional Japanese inn called a Ryokan, where you can choose between Japanese and Western rooms and meals, with access to public baths (onsen). You can get a feel for the more traditional side of Kyoto and walk around in a yukata, or cotton kimono (www.ryokan.or.jp).  For a less traditional headrest, try sleeping in a capsule. One of the few capsule hotels that accommodate both men and women, Nine Hours Hotel (www.ninehours.co.jp) offers an alternative to a traditional hotel room and is located on the main drag in Kyoto. More like an upgraded hostel, it includes private showers, a break room and a computer lounge area. Although an attractive option for backpackers, it also offers a less expensive option for an overnight stay in the city especially for those interested in this unique experience.

Kyoto is a convenient stop on both the JR Line and Hankyu line that both run through central Osaka.

Nadler Hotels, London: understated luxury

The entranceway to Nadler Kensington Hotel, in the historic area of Kensington.
The entranceway to Nadler Kensington Hotel in the historic area of Kensington.

When traveling to a new city, where you lay your head can make or break your experience. A clean, comfy hotel can offer a much needed respite after a long flight or be the source of a bad review on TripAdvisor. So, after spending seven hours flying across the Atlantic, I was hoping my hotel choice in London would be a good beginning to my first view of the city.

I chose the Nadler group of hotels after searching online for boutique hotels in London with a central location and good ratings. The Kensington location is situated in a historic townhome ideally located in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. Kensington High Street is less than two miles away, leading to Kensington Palace, home to Prince William and Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge. The area is the smallest borough in London and the home to embassies and within a short walk to Museum Row and luxury department stores. Long rows of historic white town homes line the streets, a mixture of private residences and businesses.

After arriving at Heathrow, I hopped the Tube to Earl’s Court Tube Station, where I had a five minute walk to the hotel. I arrived at the doorstep the hotel on a deceptively sunny Autumn morning. A light wind kissed my neck as I heaved my heavy suitcase up the stairs.

The Nadler Kensington is a multi-level property, with a long entryway that opens to a cozy lobby area and front desk designed as a parlor room with a towering shelf of books to browse, a fireplace and modern furniture. The multilingual staff is very helpful and accommodating. After arriving a bit early and waiting for my room to become available, I was subsequently upgraded to a Deluxe room, so it was quite spacious for one person.

A neighborhood block in Kensington in London.
A neighborhood block in Kensington in London.

The room came with a super comfy queen bed with a luxury faux fur throw and voluminous pillows. A desk area with complimentary electronic adapters and a very useful USB port (along with free wifi) was also present along with a flat screen television and a large bathroom with a tub and generous counter space for toiletries. The tub was a bit high (I’m short), and additional toiletries like a bath mat had to be requested, along with a complimentary rubber duckie! The room included a hidden kitchenette with a coffee/tea maker, English Breakfast tea bags, and a Britta tap filter. Porcelain teacups and glasses were also included along with stainless steel cutlery.

The hotel is conveniently close to two tube stations; Earl’s Court and High Street Kensington, providing quick access to other tourist areas in the city.

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Kensington Palace and Gardens, London.

25 Courtfield Gardens

London SW5

0PG, United Kingdom