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.

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.

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.

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

 

Green city escape: Oakland

A gondola on Lake Merritt. Courtesy of Visit Oakland, Barry Muniz

Oakland may be a little rough around the edges, but like a Tootsie Roll pop, perseverance will get you to the gooey center of all types of green activities. Here are just a few of the city’s urban spaces to explore.

Eat

Farmer’s Markets

Tour the many Farmer’s Markets in and around Oakland serving fresh local fruits and veggies as well as hot dishes in some locales. The Oakland Fruitvale Farmer’s Market even has crafts for sale by local artists.

Wood Tavern

True to its name, this wooden, rustic restaurant is a cozy place serving up plates of food made using local, sustainable ingredients. Try some of the seasonal salads or dive into one of the many main dishes for lunch, a mid-afternoon meal or dinner.

Actual Café

A neighborhood eatery with affordable options, this place serves up corn and pepper empanadas, veggie sandwiches and salads to its laidback clientele.  A no-laptop-on-the-weekends-rule encourages an interactive environment without modern distractions.

Explore

Old Oakland

What’s old is new again in this former downtown area where quaint shops and boutiques are housed within old Victorian structures. Eat, sleep, shop and play while exploring the older side of Oakland.

 Sibley Volcanic Preserve

Take a self-guided volcanic tour on Volcanic Trail or follow Pond Trail to view the ponds to the North of the preserve. Hiking and cycling trails are also available.

Lake Merritt

Channel your inner Venetian with a gondola ride on Lake Merritt, or paddle in a canoe or paddle boat around the city’s lake.  More of a landlubber? Take a walk or jog around the three mile path.

Kids

Oakland Zoo

This famous zoo attracts people from all over California with its exotic animals and exhibits. Tour the African Savannah with its gazelles and Egyptian geese or take a trek through the Rainforest exhibit and view tigers and a yellow anaconda.

Museum of Children’s Art

Unleash the mini Picasso in your child at the Museum of Children’s Art, where creativity is both hands on and colorful.  Kids can unleash their imagination through paint, crayons, paper and pencil and even Play-Doh.

Children’s Fairyland

There’s nothing like an outdoor fantasy land full of giant shoes, dragons and colorful miniature buildings to get your kids in a playful mood. This outdoor fairytale/live storybook play land invites kids to see hear and touch what’s around them while also enjoying daily puppet shows, train rides, a carousel and a mini Ferris wheel.

Information gathered from www.visitoakland.org

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!

There’s an (eco) app for that?

There’s truly an app for everything, from grocery deliveries to at-home eye exams. In fact, more than 190 billion apps were downloaded in 2017. With all of these options I was curious to find out which apps actually helped to improve the planet. Here are my top choices. Bonus? They’re mostly free!

Thrive Market Shop Heathy – What’s better than food delivery? Not much. Especially when its healthy food being delivered to you. This app allows you to shop for organic food that caters to your specific diet and have it delivered to you  for half the price of grocery stores. Bonus? As if you need one. Thrive will sponsor a low-income family just for joining. (FREE)

Cruelty-Free – Contains a searchable listing of more than 300 U.S. and Canadian companies that offer cruelty-free cosmetic items, household objects and personal care items that are not tested on animals or made from animal parts. It was created through the “Leaping Bunny Program,” a label present on many makeup and skin care items. (FREE)

GoGreen Carbon Tracker – What’s your carbon footprint? Now, you can measure just what your impact is to the environment through this app, which calculates it based on information you input like your electricity bill. The more trees that appear on-screen, the greener you are! It also helps save you money by offering suggestions to lower your thermostat. (FREE)

Ofo – Find a bike. Ride a bike. It’s that easy. With no docking stations, it’s as easy as spotting a yellow bike on the street, tapping your phone, scanning the bike and taking off. (FREE)