—Shandana A. Durrani
International cities have long been ahead of the curve in terms of environmental initiatives and sustainability. European cities often lead the way, especially those found in Nordic countries. While cities such as Malmo, Sweden, and Reykjavik, Iceland, have adopted sincere green practices, in terms of livability and quality of life, Oslo, Norway, is tops. That’s why it’s the winner of the first GreenLux Award for most environmentally friendly international city.
Why Oslo? It has a long history of environmental concern, long before other cities jumped on the eco bandwagon. The government spurs on the populace by promoting sustainability. The Oslo city council voted to replace heating oil in city buildings with renewable energy sources by 2012, which is ballsy considering how much energy the metropolis uses. The government provides incentives for new buildings to promote energy efficiency. All buses running on fossil fuels will be converted to biofuels in 2011. The city is lowest of all European metropolises when it comes to CO2 emissions. Eighty five percent of school children walk, bike or use public transportation to school (the rail system is run on hydroelectric power). Ninety four percent of household waste is recycled. A majority of the population lives within a short distance of public green space, which they utilize in record numbers. All of this in a city that is one of the wealthiest in the world.
Walking around Oslo, you can see its environmental commitment. The air quality is good and the streets are free of trash and refuse. Locals are active year-round, enjoying the public parks and numerous waterways, even in winter. One can’t help but notice that everyone walks, bikes or takes the train/subway everywhere. Maybe it’s the unique topography of Norway that lends itself to this. Fjords, those majestic inlets created by glaciers, surround so much of the country. The scenery is breathtaking but the terrain can be tough to traverse if you aren’t careful, making driving a bit hazardous as times. Thus, this isn’t a car-crazy city. Most residents don’t have one car, much less two or more and the rail and bus system is so efficient that getting around is a breeze.
The city’s isn’t a culinary mecca like New York or London, but Oslo still has a number of great slow food purveyors, farmer markets and community gardens. The three-day Matstreif food festival is held every September on Town Hall Square. Fresh produce, baked goods, cheese and cured meats are available. Overland Community Garden sits on 25 acres at which 300 part owners cultivate herbs and produce. Erling Mos As sells fresh fish and seafood and has been a local favorite for four decades. Additional small-scale farmers markets occur throughout the summer and fall at Karl Johans Gate.
Finding an eco-friendly hotel isn’t difficult in a city known for green businesses. Thon Hotels is a chain of environmentally sound hotels in Northern Europe. The hotels are chic and comfortable with plenty of green trappings, from organic dining to waste reduction to energy saving initiatives to utilizing only eco-friendly products and amenities. There are 12 in Oslo proper, near many tourist sites such as the Munch Museum and the Opera.
Porto, also known as Oporto is the second largest city in Portugal and located along the Douro River in Northern Portugal and probably most famous for the port wine.
On the 23 June each year, the city of Porto holds one of the liveliest European festivals. Thousands of people come to the city centre and more traditional neighborhoods to pay a tribute to Saint John the Baptist, in a party that mixes sacred and profane traditions. The Festa de São João do Porto has been held for over 6 centuries. The party begins in the afternoon and continues through the night with dance parties, street music and the release of sky lanterns and balloons. A midnight fireworks show is followed by more partying, until young people walk to the seaside at dawn and watch the sunrise.
While the festival is in honor of Saint John the Baptist, it also has a more unusual side. Elements of the festival lead back to pre-Christian traditions, and this is what leads us to one of the strangest Portugal facts − partygoers engage in Pagan-style courtship rituals. The tradition is that young men seek out attractive women, and proceed to hit them with garlic flowers or soft plastic hammers!
The party starts early in the afternoon of 23 June and usually lasts until the morning of 24 June. The traditional attractions of the night include street concerts, popular dancing parties, jumping over flames, eating barbecued sardines, Caldo Verde (a popular green soup made from potatoes and collard greens) and meat, drinking wine and releasing illuminated flame-propelled balloons over Porto's summer sky.
At midnight, party-goers make a short break to look at the sky at Saint John's fireworks spectacle. The show is increasingly sophisticated, with the fireworks being associated with themes and multimedia shows.
The party has Christian roots but is also mixed with pagan traditions, with the fireworks embodying the spirit of tribute to the Sun, which is the climax of the event and mark the end of the official festivities.
Jet lag (dysrhythmia) has by many been dismissed as merely an unpleasant side-effect of air travel, but new research suggests that the body clock is often not synchronized with an air traveller's new time zone causing common problems such as fatigue, poor concentration, trouble sleeping, irritability, minor depression, altered estimation of time and distance and digestive problems. The research also showed that more serious problems like memory loss, shrinkage of parts of the brain, negative impact on blood pressure and was even implicated in the incidence of cancer. Studies show that jet lag worsens with age, particularly after age 50.
The symptoms are at their worst in the first two days after crossing three or more time zones. The general rule is that, without any specialized treatment, adjustment time takes about a day for each time zone crossed. However, if left untreated, two or three weeks may be needed to completely realign all rhythms correctly.
For many travelers jet lag can certainly put a kink in a long awaited vacation.
So how can we combat jet lag? There are certainly no lack of products on the market claiming to beat the jet lag blues.
According to Helen Murphy, Sr. Editor, Health & Wellness Advice at Consumer Review a good jet lag remedy should contain clinically proven ingredients such as GABA, DMAE, L-ornithine, L-theanine, Magnesium and more. A good formula, should provide a dual action ‘relax and refresh’ benefit: to de-stress and relax during the travel itself plus optimize balance and re-tune circadian rhythms upon arrival at your destination.
Ms. Murphy’s recommends three products, Research Verified Jet Lag Relief (#1 top pick, but often out of stock), NO-JET-LAG, (#2 pick, and sold on Amazon), and Jet Lag Rapid Reset (#3 pick).
There is another option on the market now, however, that seem quite popular - the pocket-size Litebook Edge.
A light therapy device. Light therapy is a natural, non-pharmaceutical method to help the body adjust to a new time zone by emitting rays of bright light that mimics the sun. It can be effective enough to actually adjust the body's internal clock up to six times zones in one day. There may even be an added bonus of raising levels of alertness and enhance moods.
You can purchase the Litebook Edge on Amazon for $162. Is it worth the steep price? The New York Jets seem to think so! They recently sent their players to London with the device to help combat jet lag before a big game. They beat the Miami Dolphins 27-14.
It is becoming more and more common for travel suppliers to provide vouchers rather than cash refunds. If a credit is provided as a nice gesture for something that went wrong, or you are unhappy with the service provided, this may be acceptable.
More and more often, however, travel suppliers are offering vouchers when this option seem very unfair to the recipient. Let's say your flight or your cruise was cancelled. Should you have to take their voucher as compensation?
This seems to be an area where better regulations are needed, but you should always say no to vouchers. Very often companies are required to offer you cash, but will try to make you believe that you don't have a choice.
Vouchers often have black-out dates and an expiration date. You may be told that the voucher expires in a year, what they often don't tell you is that it is a year from when the ticket was purchased, not a year from when you would receive your voucher.
Make sure you read the fine print on the voucher before you agree to accepting it. If you don't like the terms, ask for a better deal, or a refund. Otherwise, you may never be able to use the credit.
This is also one of the main reasons why, when purchasing travel insurance you should use a third party travel insurance company rather than purchasing insurance through the supplier. When you are insured through the supplier you will very often be reimbursed in vouchers, not cash.
The latest addition to Iceland’s vibrant craft beer scene is Kaldi’s Beer Spa. Located in the village of Árskógarsandur close to Akureyri in North Iceland. Guests can now literally bathe in beer in one of the spa's seven tubs. The owners of Kaldi claim that bathing in the beer can have health benefits.
The spa opened last summer offers visitors an opportunity to bathe in tubs filled with beer, warm water, hops and yeast, while drinking cold Kaldi craft beer from tap. Each tub can accommodate two people. Guests relax for 25 minutes before moving on to another room for another 25 minutes of beer based treatment.
This is Iceland’s first beer spa, and it has been very popular with locals as well as tourists so it is a good idea to make reservations.
The spa is modeled after popular Czech beer baths. Beer spas are quite common in the Czech Republic and most of the largest Czech breweries operate spas that attract beer-lovers from all over the world. The Czechs believe that bathing in beer is good for the skin and that it’s overall a revitalizing experience for your mind and body.
For anyone interested in craft beer you will not only get a fascinating insight into micro-brewing in Iceland but also about the culture and background to brewing and alcohol promotion in the country.
BOOK AN EARLY FLIGHT
The earlier your flight is scheduled to leave the less likely you'll run into problems. A flight in the evening could be pushed back because of a delayed flight earlier on in the day. Avoid the snowball effect of flight delays by simply flying early and you'll be more likely to have a smooth experience (and have more alternative options if your original flight does get delayed or cancelled) - provided the long security line hasn't already shattered your spirit.
CONSIDER TSA PRE-CHECK
If you're a frequent traveler, or would just rather not have to deal with the insane security lines, you should look into the TSA Pre-Check program. According to the TSA, “In November 2017, 93% of TSA Pre-Check passengers waited less than 5 min.” If you're traveling domestically, the cost of skipping security lines is $85 for five years. If you travel frequently, it's definitely worth the investment for five years of airport ease. With the TSA Pre-Check you won't have to take off your shoes or unpack your laptops, nor will you have to take off your jacket or belt. If you travel internationally, the $100 Global Entry Program will cut down your time waiting in customs lines.
TAKE ADVANTAGE OF EARLY CHECK-IN
Check in before you get to the airport. Airlines will usually send you an email or text allowing you to check in online starting 24 hours before your flight. Do it! It'll save you tons of time waiting in line for a boarding pass with the other procrastinators and it can also save you money. Many airlines now charge you for waiting to check in at the airport, and they sometimes even charge more for checking luggage at the airport instead of paying online the day before; then, when you get to the airport, all you have to do is drop off your luggage with the airline. If flying internationally, double check the website of the airline you are flying with, to stay aware of special rules and regulations.
Speaking of luggage costs, try to travel light. Checking in a bag can be expensive and time consuming, especially if you're flying with an airline that makes you wait in the same line to check your bag as the people waiting to check in for their flight - which is incredibly frustrating if you've checked in early and are only trying to drop off your bags. If you can, save yourself the headache and get crafty with packing your necessities in your carry-on. Here are three hacks to help you fit more into your suitcase.
FIND A RIDE
Take a cab or an Uber or find a friend to drive you to the airport the day of your flight. Not having to find parking and take a shuttle from the lot to the airport will save you considerable time. If you can't arrange a ride, look up close parking lots in advance and call ahead to make sure there is available space.
Regardless of early preparation efforts or TSA Pre-Check, make sure you arrive at the airport a few hours earlier than normal during the holiday season. With the amount of travelers and potential delays, you never know what surprises you may have to deal with once you get there. With that said, don't forget to pack your phone charger on your person in case you're delayed and need to make alternate flight plans. In addition to a charger, here are 12 things every savvy traveler should always pack.
Nothing is worse than being all dressed up sitting on the terminal floor, or having to stand in a two-hour line in heels. That doesn't mean you have to show up in pajamas, but if you're comfortable in what you're wearing it'll be easier to take on the other challenges you'll likely face at the airport. Here are more helpful tips when deciding how to dress while traveling .
CARRY ON ESSENTIALS
Since you never know how long you'll be waiting at your terminal, make sure to have all your essential items packed in your carry-on. Holiday time or not, this is always a good rule to follow in case your checked luggage disappears or accidentally takes longer route to get to your destination. Having a change of clothes and small, TSA-safe toiletry bag in tow is a good idea. If you do encounter a surprise delay, we hope you find yourself at one of these airports, where an unexpected layover can actually end up being fun.
HAVE AN EMERGENCY PLAN
Considering the time of year, delays and winter storms are a very real possibility, so plan ahead. Consider booking airport lounge access in advance. Airport lounges include necessary amenities such as food, Wi-Fi, and a quiet place to catch some sleep during potentially long delays or layovers. Some even have showers, mini-gyms, hair salons, billiards, bars, and arcades!
Everyone else wants to make it to his or her destination just as much as you do, so try to keep your patience. During the holiday season there are plenty of novice or infrequent flyers who don't always know the TSA guidelines. Although this can be frustrating for frequent flyers that want to zoom through, remember it's for this exact reason that you arrived early to the airport in the first place. Take a deep breath and stay calm. You'll get there eventually. Planning an international trip in the New Year? Here are the world's best airlines.
AIRPORT SECURITY – GIFTS
Nothing gets you held up in the security line, or worse, pulled aside for additional screening, like having a suspicious-looking or hard-to-identify item in your carry-on. This is only worsened if the item is wrapped for gifting. Ideally, you would pack all gifts in your checked luggage, but if it’s totally unavoidable to put it in your carry-on, make sure to leave it unwrapped. Here are other tips on how to handle gifts and flying this holiday season.
AIRPORT SECURITY – SPORTS EQUIPMENT
Whether you’re off to the ski slopes or to the beach, it is likely you’ll be taking some sports equipment with you. If at all possible, plan to buy or rent these at your destination. Otherwise be sure to check exactly which sports equipment is allowed in carry-on luggage. As a general rule, if the equipment can’t double as a weapon and does fit in your carry-on, it’s okay to pack it. Some general guidelines are available here.
AIRPORT SECURITY – FAMILY LANE
The more people are in your traveling group, the longer the time it will take to get through security. You can speed up this process by taking advantage of the family or special needs lane, if you are traveling as a family. Sometimes it is not so obvious that this option is available, so be sure to ask around. You might even get lucky and get ushered through the VIP lane!
AIRPORT SECURITY – CHECK THE JACKET
With airlines providing blankets, there’s really no need to board the plane with your winter jackets or heavy shoes on. As soon as you enter the airport, pack these in your luggage so that you will spend less time removing and putting on your jackets and heavy boots at security. Opt instead for a light overcoat and, if possible, slip-on shoes. If you’re worried about staying warm on the plane, check out these flight-friendly cardigans!
AIRPORT SECURITY – BABY FOOD
No one likes airplane food but few of us have a choice, at least on long-haul flights, except for babies. But make sure not to go overboard with the allowance that is made for baby food. Yes, you can take more than the allowed three ounces, but if you pack more than what seems necessary for the duration of the flight, or insist on taking your own water for mixing formula, you might cause yourself a delay at security. Take only what you’ll need for the flight and buy water after going through security.
AIRPORT SECURITY – GO SOLID
These days you can find the solid version of just about every toiletry out there. At security, this will save you the hassle of putting everything in the clear plastic bag and removing and replacing that bag from and into your carry-on, not to mention having to make a difficult choice over what to take and what to leave, especially if you don’t have any checked luggage. So, beat security at their own game by packing some or all of the solid toiletries seen here.
AIRPORT SECURITY – CARRY-ON
A general rule when packing your carry-on is to keep it as simple as possible, to minimize, if not totally eliminate, the chance of being taken aside by security for further inspection. We all know the obvious don’ts by now, about liquids and aerosols in particular, but some other items that you shouldn’t carry might surprise you. The TSA even has a handy social media asking tool if you feel unsure about an item.
AIRPORT SECURITY – SKIP THE LINE!
You don’t have to have accessibility requirements, be a high-profile person, or be traveling with a family to pass through security faster. For a fee and a bit of admin, you can get yourself on the TSA PreCheck list. (For those traveling specifically between Canada and the U.S., the equivalent program is NEXUS.) This is a preferred list valid for five years that allows you to breeze through security with minimal delay. If the idea of voluntarily registering for a government-vetted list of travelers makes you uneasy, here are some commonly asked questions and answers.
AIRPORT SECURITY – HAVE ELECTRONICS READY AND CHARGED
You might think that simply putting your cellphone and other electronics in the bin is all that is required of you when it comes to electronic devices. And for the most part, it is. But save yourself from an unexpected delay by making sure that all your electronics, but especially your cellphone, are fully charged should additional screening be required for travel between Canada and the U.S. For the most part, all you have to show is that the device has not been tampered with and can be turned on.
AIRPORT SECURITY – TIMING
It’s easier said than done, of course, but if there is any way you can avoid traveling during peak holiday times, do so. This would mean intentionally putting off your travel until a few days later or earlier than the holiday itself. But even within those peak times, it’s worth doing the research to try and travel during the slowest times of day, which are generally middays in midweek.
As a travel advisor one thing I do is to make sure that my clients get the most out of ther precious time while on vacation. Did you for instance know that the Vatican Museums have more than 20,000 visitors per day! Visitors can deal with frustrations such as long lines, inadequate or wrong labeling and unannounced closures of galleries. Not to mention the fact that, at 9 miles long, the Papal Palace can be pretty tough to navigate, but why when you don’t have to?
Let’s for instance say you have decided to visit Rome this June, and one of the highlights on your trip will be the Vatican Museum, one of the most beautiful and impressive places in the world. Without planning you could easily spend up to four hours standing in line getting tickets, which is definitely not the best way to spend your precious time in Rome.
There are ways to avoid the worst of the crowds and get the most out of your visit. Planning ahead is your best bet to ensure success when visiting the Vatican Museums.
The Vatican Museum opens Monday to Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and on the last Sunday of each month from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. The Museums open at 10 a.m. and close at 6 pm. Check the Vatican website provided below for more information on holiday closings and special openings.
If you have a flexible schedule you can try to visit the museum in the afternoon for shorter lines or tour the quieter galleries, such as the Pinacoteca, at peak times and the most popular stops toward the end of the day. Visiting early in the morning is also recommended, particularly during high season.
To ensure that you get the most out of your trip I would recommend a Skip the Line Tour for fast-track entry, or even better a VIP Tour and enter before the doors even open to the crowds or at night when it is closed to the general public.
A couple of years ago I was able to enjoy a VIP tour in the evening, and having done the visit during the day with the crowds as well I can assure you that the two experiences were quite different.
Let me know if you would like arrangements made for Skip the Line Tours or VIP Private tours to the Vatican or any other popular sight. This is part of the service I provide.
Travel is a way to explore other cultures, people, food and places, and to see that there is more to life than just our way of doing things. Travel is a way to teach children respect for others and appreciation for life.
They learn to take care of themselves in new places. They learn that exploring is a must. They learn to ask questions. They learn how to navigate cities. They learn that life must be lived and not watched on TV or played on a video game.
When parents struggle to figure out what toys to give their children as gifts, consider giving the gift of travel instead - they will thank you for it when they become adults. When travel is given as a gift they will last much longer than the latest computer gadget or hottest electronic toy that you may have considered buying.
Teach your children geography by giving them age-appropriate atlases and travel books for the journey, and hang a large map on their bedroom wall where they can pinpoint their travels.
Older children and teenagers will be more interested in doing research for your travels if you let them help choose activities at your destination and or even help choose the places to visit.
Kids learn so much from seeing places, landmarks and wildlife in the places you're visiting.
Younger kids need to stick to their normal schedules as much as possible, you need to give them their snacks and nap time. You don't have to see it all in one day.” Make sure that they have a good amount of downtime during the trip. Keep in mind that if you try to do too much it will backfire, and remember, it's not the destination, it's the journey.
Connecting with locals, discovering unique culinary experiences and holistic wellness are some of the top motivations for travel in 2018.
The recently released American Express 2018 travel trend and top destinations report revealed international bookings are up 44 percent for the first quarter of the coming year as people are embarking on journeys around the globe for a multitude of reasons.
The study, which involved surveying more than 2,000 respondents, found that 57 percent of Americans have set exploring a new destination they’ve never seen before as their most important travel goal for 2018.
Nearly half of travelers, 43 percent, said finding a local culinary spot in a hip neighborhood is one of the most exciting dining experiences while traveling. Travelers are looking beyond the pretty plate in search of authentic food experiences in local homes and from homegrown chefs.
In addition, spontaneity continues to be incredibly important to travelers, 52 percent of whom enjoy getting lost and discovering hidden shops, restaurants or bakeries to create their own memories. Further underscoring the desire for the unexpected, 49 percent of Americans prefer trips with adventure and excitement.
Additional highlights include:
—56 percent of U.S. travelers are willing to pay more to get better service, and 53 percent like to be pampered while traveling.
—Luxury travelers are increasingly booking premium seating with 68 percent planning to fly first or business class in 2018.
—22 percent of Americans say the most important travel goal for 2018 is to disconnect from technology, work and everyday life.
Another trend to watch for over the next 12 months is “social over solo travel.” Solo travel still has its place, but 53 percent of Americans prefer a social travel experience during which they are able to connect with like-minded travelers for an optimal experience.
In addition, 57 percent of Americans are seeking to interact with locals when traveling. Still, others want to stay with locals while traveling.
The study also reveals the top 10 destinations for the coming year. The leading destination to visit in 2018 is Bali.
The remaining destinations rounding out the top 10 include Costa Rica; Dubai; London; Portugal (Lisbon and Porto regions); Rome; Tel Aviv; Utah-Lorado (Park City, Salt Lake City, Aspen, Denver and Vail); Vietnam (Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City regions); and Zurich, Switzerland.
What is on your wish list?
During my recent visit to Iceland I enjoyed a few hours at the Blue Lagoon, listed as one of National Geographic’s 25 wonders of the world. Many may say it is a tourist trap, but it is is an oasis of relaxation nevertheless.
The Blue Lagoon geothermal spa is one of the most visited attractions in Iceland. The spa is located in a lava field in Grindavík on the Reykjanes Peninsula, approximately 12 miles (20 km) from the Keflavík International Airport and 24 miles (39 km) from the center of Reykjavík, (roughly a 21-minute drive from the airport and a 50-minute drive from Reykjavík).
The spa is based around the unique properties of the geothermal seawater in the lagoon.
The geothermal water originates 6561 feet (2,000 meters) below the surface, where freshwater and seawater combine at extreme temperatures. It is then harnessed via drilling holes at a nearby geothermal power plant, Svartsengi, to create electricity and hot water for nearby communities.
On its way to the surface, the water picks up silica and minerals. When the water emerges, its temperature is usually between 98-104°F (37°C and 40°C).
The geothermal water has a unique composition, featuring three active ingredients – Silica, Algae & Minerals. The reason the water has a light blue milky color is that the silica reflects sunlight. During summer there can also be a hint of green in the water. This is the result of the algae, which multiplies quickly when exposed to direct sunlight.
The geothermal water has many benefits. But there are a few things that you should keep in mind. The warm waters are rich in minerals like silica and sulfur and bathing in the Blue Lagoon is reputed to help some people suffering from skin diseases such as psoriasis. The Blue Lagoon also operates a research and development facility to help find cures for other skin ailments using the mineral-rich water.
The lagoon is a man-made lagoon which is fed by the water output of the nearby geothermal power plant Svartsengi and is renewed every two days. It is the largest in the World. Superheated water is vented from the ground near a lava flow and used to run turbines that generate electricity. After going through the turbines, the steam and hot water passes through a heat exchanger to provide heat for a municipal water heating system. Then the water is fed into the lagoon for recreational and medicinal users to bathe in.
Iceland has a strict code of hygiene and guests are required to shower prior to enjoying the geothermal spa.
Children age 8 and under are only allowed entry with the use of arm floaters, provided free of charge. The lagoon is not suitable for children under the age of 2 years.
The Blue Lagoon is accessible for wheelchair users with a ramp that extends into the water and a shower chair. There is also a private changing room available for those with special needs, complete with a roll-in shower.
Blue Lagoon is going through a phase of expansion. Construction is ongoing spring 2018, when a new resort complex will open.
A few interesting facts:
The lagoon contains 2377548 gallons or 9000000 liters of water.
The water is self-cleansing – it renews itself every 40 hours.
Blue Lagoon is mostly 2.6 - 3.9 feet (ca. 0.8-1.2 meters) deep. Its deepest point is 4.59 feet (1.4 meters).
If you would like to visit Reykjavik it is recommended to plan well ahead. Hotels in Iceland have not been able to keep up with demand so to avoid disappointments it is recommended to book early