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

 

 

Eco-Ecuador

Recycling bins along the Malecon, a 1.5 mile boardwalk in Guayaquil.

It’s not easy being green. Especially when you’re a small country on a vast continent, and overshadowed by  popular eco-destinations to the North, like Costa Rica. But Ecuador’s location along the Pacific Coast, with its dramatic backdrop of the Andes Mountains, fertile valleys and rainforest and its plethora of outdoor options, makes it a natural contender. And best of all, its cheaper than a lot of its surrounding neighbors.  If you’re an adventure enthusiast, take advantage of whitewater rafting, surfing lessons in Montanita, hiking in caves,  or even zip lining. Non-adrenaline junkies may want to visit the Butterfly Garden in Mindo, and spy more than 25 different butterfly species in this protected garden, or take a leisurely ride in a canoe along the Amazon River. Also worth visiting is the Peguche Waterfall, outside of Quito.

For a little pampering, why not take a dip in the natural mud pools in San Vicente, or try the popular aloe vera massage, perfect after a hot day in the sun.

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Boating along the Amazon River in Tena, Ecuador

Guayaquil, the largest city in Ecuador, does its part in keeping the country clean with its numerous trash cans and recycling bins lining the Malecon, a 1.5 mile stretch of boardwalk along the Guayas River, lined with restaurants, shops and a large Botannic Garden.  Along the coast (La Costa), they recycle glass bottles. Tena, in El Oriente, has begun to improve its many unpaved roads  that crisscross through the Amazon city, by converting rocks into gravel/cement for paving.

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The author in a cave in Tena, Ecuador

Everywhere you go in Ecuador—no matter city or town or farmland or jungle, the message is as clear as the billboards on which they are printed: respect our land, respect our country.

For more on green travel, follow me on Twitter @niatravelwriter 

Green city escape: Washington, D.C.

Cherry blossoms along the Tidal Basin with a view of the Jefferson Memorial, Washington, D.C. Credit: Destination DC.

The capital city is home to more than politics, scandals and monuments.  As the presidential election draws nearer, check out what this former swamp city has to offer. Everything from national parks to historic canals and gardens await your visit!

Visit

Botanic Garden

A natural place to start, it boasts outdoor gardens and a year-round conservatory that is host to hundreds of species of plants and flowers in eight garden rooms under glass, totaling 28,944 square feet of growing space. Take a self-guided tour through the gardens or a guided or cell phone tour.

Tidal Basin

After visiting the Smithsonian museums on the National Mall, take a trip down the Tidal Basin in a paddleboat built for two, and catch a close-up view of the Jefferson Memorial.  If you’re here in March, it’s the best way to view the cherry blossoms that line the Tidal Basin, the city’s most popular tourist attraction in the spring.lotus-1867676_1920

Eastern Market

If you’re in town on a Saturday or Sunday, wind through Eastern Market. It’s DC’s oldest open market selling fresh fruits and veggies as well as crafts made by local artists.

Meridian Hill Park

Meridian Hill Park, also known as Malcolm X Park, hosts a popular Drum Circle every Sunday where you can take part in playing drums along with the performers or just sit back and enjoy the beats along with the locals.

Eat

Busboys and Poets

Savor sweet French toast or opt for a veggie omelet at Busboys and Poets, which has a menu full of veggie and vegan options. The eclectic restaurant/bar/bookstore and entertainment venue offers a tasty brunch and people watching at its historic 14th street location.

Founding Farmers Restaurant

Located just three blocks from the White House, this restaurant offers local and organic dishes and vegan options for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The pasta and bread are made from scratch.

For more ideas, check out www.washington.org and plan your next trip to D.C. For more tips on what to do in DC, follow me @niatravelwriter  

Green city escape: Myrtle Beach

Brookgreen Gardens. Source: Myrtle Beach Convention &Visitors Bureau.

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina has long been a favorite of visitors because of its 60 miles of white sand beaches, waterparks, live entertainment and world-class golf.  Its location on the East Coast brings lots of regional crowds looking to escape the hustle and bustle and summer heat of Northern cities.  But its mild fall and winter temperatures are also attracting visitors seeking entertainment beyond the Boardwalk.  Here are just a few of the activities available to green enthusiasts.

Visit

Brookgreen Gardens

Brookgreen Gardens is home to more than 900 works (550 currently displayed) by 300 of the greatest names in American sculpture, past and present. In addition to the Archer and Anna Hyatt Huntington Sculpture Garden, visitors can explore the Lowcountry History and Wildlife Preserve with its native plants and animals, and the E. Craig Wall Jr. Lowcountry Center, featuring exhibits and educational programs focusing on the area’s rich history. Guests can visit varied ecosystems and historic sites via boat or overland aboard Springfield tidal creek excursions and Trekker back-roads excursions.

Hobcaw Barony

Hobcaw Barony is a 17,500-acre wildlife refuge on the southern end of the Grand Strand on 14 former rice plantations.  It offers teaching and/or research in forestry, marine biology, and the care and propagation of wildlife, flora and fauna in connection with colleges and/or universities in the state of South Carolina.  Tours are offered throughout the year. A reconstruction era village is also an intact feature of the property.

Lowcountry Plantation Tours

Cap’n Rod Singleton brings a lifetime’s experience of tales and folklore to Lowcountry Plantation Tours as a native of the lowcountry. The year-round tours offer a unique opportunity to experience coastal South Carolina in ways never seen by the land-bound visitor. The Lowcountry Plantation Tour Boat is a safe, comfortable 56-foot pontoon boat, offering shaded deck seating and clean, modern restrooms. It is fully USCG certified, and handicap accessible. The tours offer visitors a relaxing glimpse into the history and stories of the past. Tours include: Plantation River Tour, Lighthouse Shell Tour and the Ghost Story & Harbor Tour.

Myrtle Beach State Park

Built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal Program, Myrtle Beach State Park was the first state park to open to the public, and was declared a Heritage Trust Site. This 312-acre Park includes a nature center home to snakes, turtles and marine animals, as well as a backyard wildlife habitat featuring a captivating butterfly garden and birdhouses. It is known to be among the best bird-watching locations on the East Coast. Campsites, cabins, apartments and picnic areas are available.

Waccamaw Riverwalk

Situated in Conway, SC, the Waccamaw Riverwalk is a fresh boardwalk that winds along the beautiful banks of the Waccamaw River – once called “the boldest river in South Carolina.  Visitors to the Riverwalk can partake in a number of activities from canoeing to pontoon and fishing boat rentals.  Guided expeditions and walks are also available.  For those who want to simply stroll, there are riverfront dining options or visitors can even pack a picnic from one of the neighboring eateries on Main St.

Stay

The Inlet Sports Lodge

The Inlet Sports Lodge, a new 30-unit resort geared toward sport enthusiasts, just opened its doors in Murrells Inlet a year ago. The Inlet Sports Lodge contains studios and two-bedroom luxury suites and truly caters to sporting. The resort’s amenities include a fish cleaning station, a courtyard with grills and a fire pit, and ample storage space for golf and fishing gear. The development also features a pool, tiki bar, and Bliss restaurant along with an owner’s clubroom and concierge services to help plan fishing trips and sporting outings. The Inlet Sports Lodge also caters to eco-tourists, with its wealth of outdoor activities to enjoy.

Kingston Resorts Sports & Health Club

The newly-renovated Kingston Resorts has completed the first round of renovations to its 50,000 square-foot Sport & Health Club.  Along with new equipment and updates to the space, the renovation also includes upgrades to the fitness center as well as renovations of the retail space. The Sport & Health club is accessible to guests as well as the public, and offers numerous recreational activities.

Check www.myrtlebeach.com  for more ideas and holiday deals!