A First Timer's Travel Guide to Iceland

A First Timer's Travel Guide to Iceland

Iceland will always have a special place in my heart. The volcanic island welcomed and nurtured me during my first job right out of university. Allowing me to learn about myself, about others, about teaching, and about living a life full of childlike wonder.

Currently Iceland is recieving an uptick in tourism, and I could not be happier. It's my strong belief that everyone should try to experience the Icelandic landscape, culture, and lifestyle at least once in their life. If you are planning a trip to Iceland soon, or you're contemplating where to travel to next, I've created a brief list of my favorite places to visit while on the island and in the city.

Side note: *I worked in Reykjavik teaching photography workshops and leading excursions around the island for 4 months, but I didn’t get the chance to fully experience the summer months so I asked a few of my friends there for advice on a few things listed below! *

WHERE TO GO: 

Golden Circle: This is a must, but only takes about 2 hours so I’d recommend touring the circle around 5pm and ending in Pingvellir National Park for dreamy evening views. They have a scuba tour to swim between the tectonic plates at Pingvellir, but honestly all of the beauty is just walking around the Park!

Jökulsárlón: INSANE. I’d recommend sleeping in your car/tent over near the ocean side (across the road from the glacier lagoon) and in the early morning when no one is around go skinny dipping… You won’t regret it. There is nothing quite like swimming in glacier water (especially in your birthday suit!).

Dimmuborgir: This is said to be where the elves and trolls live up in the North near Akuryri. It’s not a main stop, but if you are doing a roadtrip up north to Myvatn then you should stop here. We spent the day sliding down the snow and playing like little kids. Once again, there is something in the air that leaves you feeling like a child again.

West Fjords: The West Fjords are on the Northwest side of the island, and are the most picturesque view you'll ever see of Iceland. Usually the roads are too snowcovered to get to the fjords during the winter months, but once summer rolls around it is a green wonderland. If you are extremely lucky then you can catch the northern lights while in the fjords in March or April, but only if you are extremely lucky.

**

CAFES IN REYKJAVIK

Live music is a huge deal in Reyk and there is live music every night at nearly every bar, café, or hole in the wall. If you grab the “GrapeVine” magazine at any hostel or bar, it lists where and when music is going on around the city.

Vínyl: THE BEST. Go here for an almond milk latte and to put on your favorite record. They have a huge selection of records and the owner is the coolest.

Café Babalu: The espresso is the best here, but you have to make sure you go upstairs and sit on the couch, it’s a hidden gem right near the main church.

Reykjavik Roasters: Once again great espresso, but limited seating.

Hurra: This is a great bar! And it’s one of the few bars that have reggae nights. Icelandic reggae is the craziest thing you’ll ever hear. Take a listen here of one of my favorite bands, AmabAdamA.

WHERE/WHAT TO EAT IN REYKJAVIK

GLO: Raw/vegan/gluten free incredible goodness here. If you’re looking for a health spot this one is my favorite place!

Skyr. This is a traditional Icelandic yogurt (similar to greek yogurt but thicker and way better). My favorite flavors are vanilla, banana, and cinnamon.

• NO ONE EATS WHALE. PLEASE DON’T ORDER IT OR THINK IT IS A LOCAL DELICACY. Not that you would, but it is a huge scandal with Icelanders over the past 6 years. There is only one or two restaurants that still have it on the menu, but just so you know it’s sort of a “black market” item now.

Brennivín: Icelandic licorice liquor. Kind of gross but also kind of incredible.

WHERE TO STAY

And last but not least, where to stay while in Reykjavik:

Kex Hostel:This place is the best for booking a room in Reykjavik. It’s close to the water and the main downtown. It also has a café connected and concerts/events most nights.

CHECK OUT MY HITCHHIKING EXPERIENCE IN THE DEAD OF WINTER 2015 HERE.

What should you read next? Check out some of VidBee's popular ponderings below!

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Where I've Been Writing Lately

Where I've Been Writing Lately

Recently I have been creating content for a media house, MCXV. I've been able to reach a larger audience with articles on travel, world news, and woman empowerment. As much as I have been writing lately, I realized that VidBee has been neglected this past month with updates and content. 

While I have some exciting projects in development at the moment, I haven't forgotten about the video series or ponderings on this site. There will be new content on the way very soon, but for now, take a look at where my head has been lately. 

April was full of filming- Morocco, Italy, France, Spain...

INSTAGRAM: @brooke_c_bee 

Creating Familiarity in the Unfamiliar

Creating Familiarity in the Unfamiliar

         Travelling to new cities, countries, and communities is an exciting time; everything is new and teeming with foreign novelty. However, I have learned that creating a small sense of familiarity in these places allows for a further personal connection to develop.

         For me, I always feel at home in a café (Although sometimes I am in very remote areas without the option or allure of a neighborhood café). When I get to a new place, I always walk around to explore the area and to scout out an interesting coffee bar. While I am all about trying new things, I am also a creature of habit. By having a coffee at the same place every day I am able to form a relationship with the baristas or café owner, which gives me a sense of comfort.

        By the third time you step foot in the coffee shop, corner deli, or market, I assure you you will be greeted like a local. So often we travel to a place and never truly get the essence of what it would be like to live there. I have even found that when you return to a shop more than once, you will be treated better than the first time around. This is mostly because people are pre-dispositioned to interact with familiar faces in a more genuine manner. Of course, this is also a two way street, but if you are reading this then I assume you are a respectful traveler.

      Creating a relationship with the baristas and the local regulars at a café also shapes my experience in a place. I have had numerous conversations full of insider tips, advice, and stories that allowed for me to have amazing experiences that I might have otherwise missed. These places of familiarity also allow for me to receive a moment of peace.


A few of my favorite familiar places...


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Galapagos Island Hopping

Galapagos Island Hopping

      The Archipelago is comprised of 13 main islands, and seven smaller islands. Transportation between the islands is usually by small boats and larger ferries.

If you are traveling to and from the islands a lot, you begin to form a very familiar bond with the crew and captains. Thanks to my incessant need to practice my Spanish every chance I get, my relationship with the crew members on the ferry grew very quickly. These type of travel relationships have their own set of perks. On my second trip the captain let me sit up top with him to get better footage of the sun rising and reflecting off the sea. He also taught me Ecuadorian slang words that I will not repeat on this article, (Hi Mama! It’s me your angelic child, who does not curse like an Ecuadorian sailor).

 

Another option to travel from the larger islands to the smaller islands is by renting kayaks. I highly recommend taking a day to explore areas of the archipelago by kayak. I would also recommend renting snorkel gear for the day so that you can dock your kayaks and get incredible underwater views as well.

 

            The flora and fauna inhabiting the Galapagos Islands is absolutely stunning. People travel from all over the world just see the free roaming wildlife and native plants of the islands. The relationship between the people and wildlife co-inhabitating the region is unlike any other place in the world. Sea lions bask in the sun on the benches by the beach, sea turtles swim next you in the water, and giant tortoises roam the highlands. However, it is important to be mindful that these are still wild animals, and it is never okay to frighten the animals by touching them or getting too close. This video I created for the Tourism Board of the Galapagos gives you more detail on guidelines for a safe and fun visit to the archipelago!

 

            When you get to the largest island Santa Cruz, you will have plenty of options for water sports. Santa Cruz is also where the Charles Darwin Research Center is located, so be sure you walk through the outdoor research center to view the Giant Tortoises on site. Right off of the main road to the center, across from the Park Ranger station, is a path to a secret beach. You’ll see a small bike rack and from there follow the barely visible path to a picturesque beach spot where only the locals frequent.

 

            If you take the ferry from Santa Cruz to Isle Isabela, be sure to tell the captain Manuel hello for me! 


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Getting To The Galapagos

Getting To The Galapagos

The night before my flight to the Galapagos Islands, a group of us decided to have a last hoorah before we parted ways. We were staying the night in Termas Papallacta Lodge surrounded by the mountains and a mere 10 meters from our hotel room doors in the middle of the lodge was a natural hot spring, so naturally this party was going to be enjoyed outside. The hours flew by with laughing, learning Ecuadorian slang words, and dancing around like wilderness wildcats. My 3:30 a.m. bedtime did not agree with my 5:00 a.m. wake up call.

My 3:30 a.m. bedtime did not agree with my 5:00 a.m. wake up call.

My half hazardly packed rucksack and coffee craving soul made it to the airport in time thanks to the best trekking guides in Ecuador and the well-rested rest of the Galapagos group.

With my Viva Latino-Top 50 Spotify playlist and a little airline mid-flight coffee, I was feeling more and more like a person again. The flight from Quito to Seymour Airport on Balta Island takes about two hours with a stopover in Guayaquil for 30 minutes. I tend to opt for aisle seats on most of my flights, but today I did not want to miss one moment of looking out the window for a first glance of the archipelago.

For exactly 1 hour and 55 minutes I looked longingly out the window at the whipped cream clouds; then it appeared, the first set of smaller islands a midst the ocean blue. In that moment I mentally took note of every last detail, as if it would all be dream if I did not dissect my surroundings: Quiero Que Sepas playing in my headphones, the taste of Orbit spearmint gum in my mouth, the slight shadow of the plane casted over the water…

When the plane landed and I stepped into the intense Equator sunshine, I felt more awake than I have been in months.

In my travels so far in life, I have only experienced this feeling of “being home” within minutes of arriving in two places; Iceland and now the Galapagos. It is not a feeling that be described. If you have ever felt it, then you know that it hits you unexpectedly and it needs no explanation.

Once off of the tarmac, the entire plane waits in line to pay the $100 entrance fee to the archipelago and get checked for no invasive plants, seeds, animals, etc. in luggage. This is important to keep the endemic ecosystem healthy.

A short 20 minute bus ride from the airport, a 5 minute boat transfer across a small channel, a 30 minute taxi ride through Santa Cruz island, another mini transfer boat to the larger “taxi boat”, and a 2 hour boat ride later we made it to Isle Isabela.


VIDEO CONTENT COVERING THE GALAPAGOS  

Houston Airport Layover Survival Tips

Houston Airport Layover Survival Tips

Currently, I am sitting in a pleasant state of caffeine induced productivity in the Houston, Texas airport. It's my first time being back in the United States for nearly 5 months. Today is also my first "Ode to Fall" moment as I am riding that caffeine high with a Pumpkin Spice Coconut milk latte.

Throughout my travels, I have stepped foot in my fair share of airports. A few of those airports have made lasting impressions on me, and a majority have been a place to refuel and reboard.

For whatever reason, the Houston airport has been a pleasant layover stop on many of my journeys over the past two years. I've actually come to love this little airport with all of its familiarities. Since I actually enjoy my time here, I thought I'd let you in on a few of my survival hacks when in Houston.

 

CIBO EXPRESS
Head to Terminal E, and stop in to CIBO for vegan, gluten-free, raw, paleo, or all of the above snacks. I personally love the Exo cricket protein bars or the Noka superfood blend packets. I swear they have some sort of healing power when it comes to helping a jetlagged hungry soul. The only downfall is the price; most snacks are between $2.99-$6.99. There's also have this "flight water" that I looooovvveee. It's called 1Above and it claims to balance electrolytes and ph for long flights, but I can't vouch for that...only the taste.

STARBUCKS ACROSS FROM GATE C21
If you've been living in a country where there is no Starbucks, and you're craving a coconut milk matcha latte for 3 months, this Starbuck I where you want to go. I'm sure every Starbucks store throughout the airport is more than capable of creating your drink of choice, but if Maria is working, you need to get yourself to Gate C21. You'll know it's Maria because her winged eyeliner and red lipstick will give you some serious make-up envy (this is mostly just for the ladies). Thank you for the laughs, and for the Grande upgrade girl!


TERMINAL E IS WHERE IT'S AT
Terminal E and Terminal C are where you're going to want to spend most of your time in the Houston airport. A common law of travel is that International Terminals are the cleanest, have the best food, and you can use the Duty Free fragrances to smell good. I would guess the majority of people who sit next to me on flights think that I am way fancier than I actually am, because that Chanel No.5 is applied liberally at the Duty Free. Actually, airports are the only place I even enjoy the smell of Chanel No.5; otherwise it makes me want to gag. There is no rhyme or reason to this little fun fact, and I openly acknowledge the nonsense.


FREE UNLIMITED WIFI
Oh yes. In a world where some airports (cough MIAMI cough) like to limit free wifi access to 30 minutes, the free unlimited wifi is a dream come true for long layovers. You don't even need to plug in your e-mail address or check-in through Facebook to use the wifi, you just accept and go! For this, you are truly loved dear Houston.


30 MINUTES CLEARING CUSTOMS
Yep, you read that right, 30 minutes. THIRTY! Customs was a breeze, and the security personnel were actually smiling (which is a rarity among customs workers in my experience). Granted, there were no lines and my luggage made it safely, but it was also midday on a Friday. I'm not saying that your customs will be 30 minutes or less like mine, but at least you can log into the wifi while you wait in line, am I right?


BATHROOM STALL SQUATS
This survival tip is not solely for Houston, becuase I do this impromptu workout in every airport. However, the stalls were bigger than most bathroom stalls, so it made it easiar. I'm the type of person who hates sitting around all day, and most flight days mean I have little to no chance of exercising that day. What I've started to do, is incorporate a squat challenge on days when I fly. I'm also not the type of person to do squats in front of people in an airport or public space outide the gym, so that's why I choose the bathroom (but if you are cool with squatting at the Gate, by all means more power to you).
The challenge is simple: How many body squats can you do in a day?
I will usually rep 30 each time I go to the restroom, and it gives me something fun to keep track of throughout the day. My record is 520 squats. What's yours?!


Now you know my Houston Airport (not so) secrets, and feel free to contact me with some survival tips of your own. I am always looking for advice on airports around the world.

Safe travels!

My Feet Stink

My Feet Stink

My double strapped, blue and purple, cross patterned Chaco sandals smell.

No really, they smell horrendous.

They smell like four years of mountains, dusty roads, wet dog, and airport security. I noticed that my sandals smelled about 6 months ago, and yet here I am, wearing them right now. I desperately need to buy a new pair of Chacos to be a presentable human being again, but I can’t bring myself to throw away (believe me there is no way someone would want these if I tried to donate…but maybe I will try anyways?) all of the memories associated with these bad boys.

They were the shoes that provoked an Italian man to stop me on the streets of Rome and proceed to pay me 80 euros to quickly kiss my feet. They were the shoes that left horrendously beautiful tan lines on my feet while in South Africa. They were the shoes that I would find misplaced during the night by the neighbor’s dog in Costa Rica. They were the shoes that initiated a conversation that would eventually lead to a brief but beautiful relationship with the perfect guy (for someone else one day). They were the shoes that I ran 3 miles barefoot back down the road to retrieve after a night out in Guatemala. They are the shoes that I run in through the airport so that I can jump into my Mama’s arms when I make it home. They are the shoes that go with every outfit.

Obviously, the sandals themselves do not hold my memories captive; I will forever have the memories. However, I live the type of life where my environment is forever changing. This is the type of life that my soul craves, but a midst the chaos I find comfort in the little facets that remain the same. Yet, as I am writing this piece, I cannot stand the smell of my “memories”.

The question now is, Is it wrong to donate rank sandals?

Learning Languages

Learning Languages

Learning a new language is never easy. I find that my initial introduction to learning a language is met with excitement and intensity. This beginning stage soon fizzles out once I’ve mastered the basic pleasantries and sentences that I’ve desperately wanted to learn. I then transition into the second stage of learning where I get frustrated by verb conjugations and “contradictions/exceptions to the rule” bits. In fact, the only language that I have been able to navigate through the second stage horror in is Spanish. Which leaves me with eight languages where I can make small talk and order a coffee. 


    Since languages are at the core of every culture, it seems to be an essential piece of knowledge to acquire in order to form connections with people from different countries. I also find that learning and attempting to speak in the official language of a country that I am visiting is a small sign of respect. I may not be able to have a deep intellectual conversation in Swahili, but I will always introduce myself and initiate small talk in Swahili before having to switch to broken English and sporadic sign language. I also could tell you the time in Dutch, or order you the best coffee you’ve ever tasted in Italian. 


    However, even with these limited phrases in each language, I have found myself in some multifaceted     conversations with people in varying communities. A discussion in Spanish about the effects of the favelas in Brazil, a confession in Italian from a woman who wasn’t ready to settle down with her fiancée, an insight in Mandarin into a Chinese man’s dream of building his own business in the city, etc. 


     The more I am able to travel, the more I realize that there are fewer barriers than we expect between cultures. Sure, communication between people in a different language can lead to confusion and is not always the most pleasant experience, but it is an experience that allows for us to remain empathetic to travellers when they navigate our home country. The tourists who spend a holiday in New York City, without any knowledge of English, and somehow by divine intervention remain relatively unscathed will always amaze me. 


     When we learn a new language, we are essentially saying that we appreciate that culture and are interested in understanding the people of that region on a basic human level. No matter where you are traveling to, I think the simplest thing we can do as travellers is to learn how to say “thank you” in that language while exploring in a new country. “Thank you” is such a common phrase that you might be surprised at how many times you use it in a day. Learning this simple phrase in a new language allows for a polite expression of cultural appreciation. 

So in case you are travelling to the following countries below, I’ve listed how to say Thank You in ten different languages. 

Arabic: Shukraan
Dutch: dank je
Hausa: na gode
Swahili: Asante

Spanish: Gracais
French: Merci
Italian: Grazie
Icelandic: Takk fyrir or “takk takk”
Mandarin: Xièxiè
Afrikaans: Bai Danke

 

Base Camp in Costa Rica

The endangered Scarlet Macaw. 

ARTICLE ARCHIVES

       For the past five weeks, I have been working in one of the most biodiverse areas in the world, the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica. Living in the remote secondary rainforest has its own set of perks and drawbacks. The wildlife is incredible, and the daily surveys conducted are my favorite way to start the day. Instead of hearing a rooster crow, I am awoken to the sound of Howler Monkeys outside my tent.  The endangered Scarlet Macaws fly over head every hour, and forage for fruit in our trees on camp. Sometimes I just stop and marvel at how normal it feels to be making coffee and look out at a troop of white-faced capuchin monkeys swinging from the branches.

     During the first few weeks, everything about the jungle and jungle living is a novelty. Creating creative vegetarian dishes for lunch and dinner, showering with a scorpion on the wall, and trekking through the new survey trails are all fresh and exciting. Don’t get me wrong; these facets of living in the rainforest still make me smile. However, I am starting to daydream about clean clothes, almond milk lattes, and a big old grass-fed burger. It’s crazy how easily we take our state of living for granted at times. In NYC, if I’m craving guacamole for dinner I just have to walk down the block to the nearest deli and buy some avocados (or if I’m extremely lazy then the pre made guacamole). In Carate if I want guacamole, I have to send a message to our staff in town, have them purchase avocados, package them, send them on the colectivo, wait by the side of the road,  and hope that the colectivo is running that day.  As you might have already guessed, I don’t get to eat guacamole or avocados very often.

        On base camp, it’s a normal discussion to compare your developing tropical ulcers, blisters, or amount of mosquito bites on your leg. Yesterday, we were told by a local friend of ours that there is a spider during the rainy season that can pee on your skin and form awful blister breakouts…we are not looking forward to that.

      It’s also a reoccurring joke between most of us on camp about how sweaty we are at all times of the day. When I first arrived at camp I was self conscious and annoyed at how much I was sweating. It’s not even that hot, it is just extremely humid, so beads of sweat will form regardless of how hot you feel. However, your body does adjust to some degree, and I find that I even start to feel cold (I use that term lightly).

      Currently I am sitting under a palm tree, sweating profusely, drinking a coconut, and happy as can be. As our wildlife research continues over the next few months, I’ll have more content to update onto VidBee, but for the moment my days are filled with 3:30am wake up calls, mosquito bites, and survey trails collecting data.

Sometimes our best projects are the ones that require the less glorious of daily tasks.

 

 

Solo Explorer Travel Tips

Solo Explorer Travel Tips

Traveling solo is an exhilarating experience, and most of my journeys start out as solo ventures or require a period of traveling alone. Whether you're about to embark on your first solo adventure, or you're an expert in the endeavor, these travel tips will keep you going. 

Try to book the first flight out in the mornings, because those planes usually arrive the evening before. Meaning your flight is less likely to be delayed due to a late incoming plane. 

-Another advantage to leaving early is that you usually arrive to your destination before sunset, so you won’t be navigating your way through a foreign area alone in the dark. I learned this lesson first hand when I arrived in Guatemala City at 10pm and was greeted with a gun fight in front of my city hostel (luckily I was in a car with my Guatemalan abuelo I had met on the plane ride, so I didn’t end up staying at that hostel after we saw the gun shots). 


-For fresh smelling clothes while backpacking or extensive travelling, pack a fabric softener sheet with your clothes. The sheet absorbs dampness and any odors to keep clothes smelling fresh (even if you’re not). It’s especially beneficial in warm, humid climates or out at sea. 

Ten days into the PCT, I was blessing Brooke for her recommendation of fabric softener sheets in my pack. Seriously helped with the smell (well as much as it could!).
— Katherine

-Along with the topic of fresh clothes, to make your suitcase or backpack feel more organized and less like a mix of clean and destroyed garments, always pack a large trash bag to keep dirty items separate from your clean items. Usually I’ll bring a plastic bag from the grocery to put my running shoes in, because after a few months of working out in overused socks (or let’s be real, no socks at all), you’ll have some smelly sneakers. 

-When I plan to wear expensive or delicate jewelry, I pack the pieces in empty film canisters. Diamond earrings or a special family heirloom are not items of jewelry I can risk getting stolen or lost.  The film canisters hide any evidence of valuables, and are looked over by potential thieves if you’re staying in a shady hotel of sorts. Usually I just leave those pieces at home, but this tip is for any of you ladies who are planning a trip to Paris, for example, and want to dress to impress.  


-Chewing gum can be a universal gesture of kindness. Offering a piece of gum to the lady next to you on a flight can be an icebreaker. I’ve seen so much joy from giving out pieces of gum or little mints to some of the young children on the streets in less developed parts of the countries I visit. I wish I could carry excess amounts of food and supplies with me to give out to the people that I meet on my journey, but for now a small treat is all I have to offer whenever and wherever I am. 

These two cuties loved playing with my camera and taking videos during the time I spent at their home while trekking on the Mayan Trails to Quetzeltenango. They were also big fans of chewing gum!

These two cuties loved playing with my camera and taking videos during the time I spent at their home while trekking on the Mayan Trails to Quetzeltenango. They were also big fans of chewing gum!

 

-Duct tape is a universal tool for travel emergencies and should be a staple item for any long thru backpackers. However, carrying around a bulky roll of duct tape is less than ideal. I’ve found that wrapping around 2 feet of duct tape around a no.2 pencil or ballpoint pen creates a miniature roll that saves a lot of room and weight in the pack. 

-Dental floss is like duct tape- an essential travel emergency superstar. I’ve used floss as a clothes line between tents, to replace a lost screw for my sunglasses, as a measurement for my waist to get the right size at a flea market in Italy, and much more. It can also be used for its intended purpose of keeping your teeth clean. 

-Carabiners can be an extra hand for you when travelling with a handful of items. I have to bring a lot of equipment with me when I travel and I’ve gotten used to looking like a pack mule, but for small bags or extra items I bought after packing I can easily attach them to my pack with a carabiner till I get the chance to re-organize. I’ve also used a carabiner to hook my backpack strap to a bench once when I was alone and really needed to sleep for a few minutes at the airport. This just adds an extra sense of security for your belongings. I’ve had a friend attach her purse to a chair while dining outside in Paris because she had witnessed a thief run off with another woman’s purse in that same scenario a couple days before. 

Carabiners helped me fit this light travel pack on to a RyanAir flight!

Carabiners helped me fit this light travel pack on to a RyanAir flight!

-It may seem like a no brainer to make a paper copy of your passport, but a lot of people that I travel with will forget to make a copy and end up bringing their passport out with them everywhere. This is dangerous if you get pickpocketed or lose your purse while out at a nightclub. There are some things you can be relaxed about while travelling, but your identification is not one. Save yourself a headache and be overly prepared with printed copies of your passport and visa information.  

-Since I’ve been plagued with a combination of food allergies, I have to be careful about what I eat when I travel abroad. I always look up the words for gluten, wheat, peanuts, and soy when I am in a country speaking a foreign language. As long as you take control of your diet situation, you’ll find that there are always options available for you to still try local cuisine and street food. I used to feel extremely stressed and anxious about eating while traveling, but now I remain vocal and never feel deprived or sick while abroad. 

As you travel by yourself and meet other solo travelers, you'll start to form a list of your own travel tips. Take every tip as a guideline, because you are the only one who truly knows what type of traveller you are, and whether or not those pieces of advice are realistic for you. And most importantly, remember to stay active, remain aware, and be confident. BON VOYAGE!

A Creative Community

A Creative Community

    The very first night I arrived in Iceland, and was coaxed to go out for drinks in Reykjavik, it became clear to me that this was a community that embraced the arts. Every little bar, coffee shop, or main stage had live music going on. In fact, every night of the week live music can be found somewhere in the city. Thanks to The Grapevinea monthly publication that is the holy grail of all things music, nightlife, culture, and the arts in Reykjavik, weekend line-ups and community events are easily accessible. After 3 months living on the island, my appreciation towards all genres of music (and live music in general) grew immensely. The overall admiration and respect geared towards music in Iceland fosters a whole collective of people who believe in the power of the arts. I mean take a look at Iceland Airwaves, Iceland's annual music festival, and the amount of work that is put into providing an international platform for emerging bands and artists to perform. While there are still major names that perform at the festival, the main objective of Airwaves is to cultivate a space for new performers to gain publicity and experience. 

    While Icelanders truly do love their music, the emphasis on having a creative outlet can be found in flim-making, photography, screen printing, writing, and painting as well. From an early age the arts play an integral role in life and eduction. The connection between quality of life and exposure to music is astounding. This connection spans generations, and positively affects both the youth and the elderly. 

    The Hitt húsið in Reykjavik is a Youth Center that works with teens and young adults to harness their creativity and generate compelling artistic endeavors. When I learned about the work going on at the Hitt húsið I was highly intrigued, so I sat down with a few of the amazing people behind it all, and got an inside look. You can view the video profile right here on VidBee.

    What I found in the environment at the Hitt húsið, and in Iceland as a whole, is a space where young people are encouraged to think visually, communicate musically, and grow as individuals. 

Check out more from Iceland below: 


Hitchhiking in Iceland

Hitchhiking in Iceland

     A little precursor for this article before my sanity is questioned; hitchhiking in Iceland is nothing like the United States.

     Not only is hitchhiking legal, but it’s a preferred means of transportation for many foreign and local travellers. Icelanders are renowned for their kindness and overall friendliness, so picking up hitchhikers is seen as an interesting addition to the original journey for most Icelanders. While hitching a ride around Iceland is common, it’s generally unheard of for people to hitchhike during the winter season.  
    However, that did not deter two friends and me from embarking on our own adventure around Iceland. Since we had a few days off of work, we decided to catch a ride from Reykjavik to Akureryi (the main hub of the North).  We rose hours before sunrise in hopes of catching a car heading north. Eventually we just hopped in a car that was willing to drop us off at the edge of Reykjavik in order to find cars heading north. In fact, it took us three different drivers to get outside of the city limits! 
It started out rough, but then our wanderlust prayers were answered by Heð, who was heading an hour north to check out an old farm property. One of my favorite parts of hitchhiking is meeting Icelanders and other travellers who have interesting stories, facts, and tips. The conversations that occur between complete strangers on a long car ride might be the most diverse and wonderful conversations to be a part of. After a short drive around the town where the strongest Viking in history was born, we parted ways at a gas station three hours south of our final destination. 
    When I say “a gas station”, I mean “the only gas station in a 80 mile radius.” And if you were wondering how many cars passed by us at this point, we counted…3 cars in twenty-five minutes. Luckily once again our wanderlust prayers were answered just as the mist turned to rain outside. This particular savior played a major part in our hitchhiking trip. He said his actual full Icelandic name to us once, but then insisted we just call him Halle, so for all intensive purposes he is Halle.  Halle drove us three hours to Akureryi- stopping to let us take photos of the sunset mountains, listening to our exclamations of awe at the ever changing landscape, and providing Icelandic antecdotes. Before he dropped us off at our friends’ place for the night in Akureryi, he invited us to check out the annual thorrobraut he was attending in Miva. Thorrobraut’s are annual festivals for every city/town where the community dines, drinks, and dances together to celebrate the past year. At the feast they eat traditional Icelandic dishes such as fermented shark, sheep’s head, fish, and sheep balls. Obviously we were more than eager to attend the celebration, so we made a plan to visit him in Miva at the festival the following night. 
    Another component of hitchhiking is the act of saving money in any way possible. For us, that meant packing all of our food for the three days into our backpacks before heading out. Our combination of food was eclectic at best, but we definitely made it work. Rice noodles were our specialty each night, and no trip would be complete without a container of Skyr. When it comes to Skyr, I’m addicted and I have no shame. There was also a jar of pickles that somehow made its way into backpack for the trip.
    On our second day of hitchhiking, we met Laura, our actual savior of the whole trip. A solo German traveller making her way around Iceland in a black four wheel drive that doubles as a bed for the night. Laura had been driving around Iceland for the past ten days, and when she saw the three of us standing by the side of the road, she waved us down and we embarked on a crazy road trip together. It was my first excursion to the north of Iceland, and while I am continually in awe by the vast landscape of the island, the north holds my official favorite spot in Iceland. Dimmuborgir is near Lake Miva and is one of the most magical spots I’ve ever seen. It’s believed that the mystical creatures (elves, fairies, and trolls) of the island live in Dimmuborgir. The rock formations themselves are incredible, but the sky is a perpetual purple and orange mix in the area that makes it seem like magic is in the air. The energy was fantastic, and I felt like a child again as we slid down ice hills, threw snow, ate icicles, and found little caves to explore. 
    The day was spent taking in all of the sights in the North. We got extremely muddy running around the hot pockets, washed our feet in a heated pool inside of an isolated cave, and met Halle at the Thorrobraut in Miva  that night. The most notable circumstance of the day occurred that evening when the three of us decided to change our plan and ride with Laura to the East then South back to Vik. What lied ahead of us was an all night drive through the East Fjords, but what we got was a spectacular northern lights show and a cramped 2 hour sleep that I wouldn’t change for anything. Capturing the northern lights is a photographer’s dream, and I personally feel eternally blessed every chance I get to see and to photograph the aurora dancing across the sky. For a detailed look at the best way to photograph the aurora borealis, you can check out my post here.
    Eventually a misty dawn led us into the closest town, and we were able to caffeinate appropriately for the day ahead. One of the most frequented attraction in the Southeast is Jökulsárlón , the Glacier Lagoon. The Lagoon is filled with drifting ice blocks broken off from the Glacier, and in time the ice chunks are swept out into the Atlantic Ocean. Since this was my second visit to Jokursalon, I had a nagging urge to do something more than simply observing the natural landscape. Luckily this urge was mutual, and we all made a split second decision to take a dip in the Atlantic Ocean during the dead of winter! I couldn’t feel my feet (or any part of my body for that matter), but I was well aware of the overwhelming smile plastered across my face. Needless to say, we were cold and exhilarated for the rest of the day!
    Ultimately we had to part ways with Laura to get back to Reykjavik that night, but we did get to spend an extra couple of days with our travel mate when she came to Reykjavik later on in the week. Our final hitchhiking ride of the trip was from a police officer. Honestly, I can’t think of a better driver to end the trip with.

Well, maybe if it had been a Skyr truck driver with a load of Skyr in the trailer…
    
    Check out the video recap of our adventure here!
    
    

Follow along on the daily explorations with Instagram:


Addiction

Addiction

It's no secret that I'm addicted (in the best way possible) to coffee. My friends, family, baristas, complete strangers- they all understand that my love for black coffee runs deep. I can usually be found with a coffee in one hand and a perpetual smile on my face. 

However, lately I've been thinking about addictions, and the stigmatism associated with the term, "addict." Obviously there are addictions that negatively impact one's life or even destroy relationships, but in one way or another we are all addicted to something. Athletes crave competition, artists thrive in heartbreak, the man on the subway longs for love; we are all searching for a way to satisfy our souls. 

Along with coffee, I've accepted the fact that my soul is addicted to adrenaline, endorphins, and new beginnings. I thrive in the feeling of unfamiliarity; where every moment is an opportunity to learn. My first days or weeks in a different country are always my favorite. The initial conversations with people I meet on my travels give me butterflies every time. Additionally, after some analyzation of my past relationships, I've also discovered that the beginnings of those relationships were the most exciting for me. These initial feelings at the beginning of a relationship however are not sustainable, and I move on to another beginning. Consequently, the amount of new beginnings I'm lucky enough to start also result in an infinite amount of goodbyes. I don't truly believe that there are any definitive endings, but that doesn't make the "see you later" any easier. 

My work in Iceland has provided countless beginnings that I think about more often than not. Honestly, the only consolation I can offer myself for subduing the amount of goodbyes I endure, is the fact that my memories will always be with me.

Every addiction has a price. Every addiction will take its toll, but for me, I choose to live in a way that satisfies my soul. 

What's your addiction? 

 

Bicycling in Manhattan

Bicycling in Manhattan

To me, the CitiBike system in New York City is the perfect subway alternative. I found that by bicycling through the city, I was able to learn the layout of Manhattan and Brooklyn.

However, the streets of New York are anything but peaceful, and I had my fair share of frustration and stress while pedaling through the concrete jungle. In a matter of 6 months, I was hit by three taxis and collided with a pedestrian twice. In order to make the streets safer for bicyclists, vehicles, and pedestrians, I've listed my Top Tips For Cycling in the City

  1. Buy a helmet (and wear it!). 
  2. Always add an extra 10 minutes to your ride. Not only will you feel less panicked about being on time somewhere, but you'll have extra time to freshen up before heading into a meeting or lunch date (and ladies, if it's in the summer you'll need time to cool down and look like less of a sweaty mess).
  3. Never assume a pedestrian sees you coming down the street. Most of the time people are only looking to avoid cars, and will step off the sidewalk right in front of you. The worst area for me is in Soho; basically anytime the bike lane is between the sidewalk and a traffic median, there will be a tourist walking blindly across the lane. 
  4. Keep your CitiBike key on your keychain or in your everyday wallet. You never know when you'll want to ride a bike, and it's important to have it with you just in case the moment strikes. 
  5. Make sure your bell on the bicycle works. The CitiBike crew does a great job of maintaining and fixing the bicycles throughout the city, but there are still problems that can go unnoticed. That bell is a lifesaver!
  6. Don't be afraid to yell "Bike!" 
  7. Avoid biking through Times Square at all costs. Honestly, most of the time if I have to bike past Times Square I'll hop off my bike and walk it till 39th street (or uptown till 45th).
  8. Download the CitiBike App on your phone. There are plenty of bike stations in the city, but sometimes the stations are full and you will need to find another spot to dock the bike. This can be a frustrating mess, or it can be as easy as checking the App on your phone. 
  9. Anticipate, and don't hesitate. For example, if you see a taxi cab in the bike lane, assume that the car door will open up right in front you. It's better to be overly cautious when riding through the city.
  10. Enjoy the freedom and stimulation of cycling through the bustling streets of NYC! And stay safe!

Abu Dhabi Layover

Abu Dhabi Layover

Extended layovers are a blessing in disguise. Sure, layovers can be an inconvenience in some cases, but they can also be a bridge to explore a new city, country, and culture.

When Edwin and I arrived in Abu Dhabi, we had slept around 3 hours in the past 32 hours. Our layover was scheduled for 19 hours till our departure to Chicago, so we made the wise decision to pay for a room at the airport hotel. We dropped off our backpacks in the room, and set out to shop at the Souks, visit the Sheikh Zayed Mosque, and eat some hummus.

This short excursion in the United Arab Emirates was my first experience in the Middle East. I had anticipated the heat, but never fully understood the term "dry heat" until that day. However, the sunshine was a welcomed change, and I relished the warmth on my skin (which is precisely the reason I woke up with sunburnt cheeks the next morning). 

My "must-see" on a layover or extended visit in Abu Dhabi is the Sheikh Zayed Mosque. Before entering the Mosque, I had to borrow a traditional robe, called an abaya, to wear as a sign of respect and tradition. My head also had to be covered while inside the Grand Mosque; which is when my new scarf from the market came in handy. It had taken me over an hour to look at all of the patterns and colors available at one of the scarf shops before I decided on a gorgeous multi-colored cool toned scarf. At the souk, my friend, Maktub taught me how to wrap the piece into a traditional head scarf. 

When Edwin and I entered the Sheikh Zayed Mosque, we were in awe of the stature of the pillars, the intricate designs, and the humbling presence of it all. My head was spinning from the beautiful architecture and culture around me (and honestly, part of it may have been from the intense heat as well). After slipping off our shoes and wondering inside, Edwin and I couldn't even talk about how mesmerizing it all was. We walked around in silence, appreciating the beauty and cultural significance. Our eyes and minds were working overtime to program every inch of the structure into our memories forever. And since memory alone just wouldn't do it justice, we took endless amounts of photos and videos to document our latest excursion. 

You can experience our day in Abu Dhabi in the latest VidBee video here

Hike Up Table Mountain

Hike Up Table Mountain

Hiking to the top of Table Mountain was a high priority for my first visit in Cape Town, South Africa.  We chose to hike it on our last day in Cape Town before heading to Pilanesburg that next morning. I'm a firm believer that sunsets make every view more incredible, so in typical Bierhaus fashion we started our hike in the late afternoon chasing the sun. The Platteklip Gorge trail was rocky and steep as we ascended to the top. 

While it might be relatively short, the trail is strenuous and can take most hikers around 3 hours to reach the scenic top. As an endurance athlete and lifetime runner, I figured I'd be bounding up the trail in half the time. While I wasn't completely wiped after the hike, I'll admit it was definitely harder than I expected. Allie kept joking that the steep incline was more effective than the stair master! 

Table Mountain coined it's name from it's featured flat-top. The plateau is roughly 2 miles from side to side; flanked by Lion's Head and Devils Peak. The view from the edge peers out to the Atlantic ocean, and it's absolutely breathtaking. We climbed out to the edge of the rocky cliff to avoid the tourists who had taken the cable car up to the peak, and watched in pure bliss as the sun set on the horizon. 

Since there is a cable car station at the top, there are also bathrooms, a small cafe, and a souvenir shop. I was kind of bummed to see how touristy it seemed at the edge of Table Mountain, but you could walk further away from the cable station to get a better sense of the natural beauty. However, I was ecstatic to hear there was a bathroom because I had been holding it since we started our trek. And it just so happens that one of my favorite moments of the trek happened while in the ladies restroom.

As I was washing my hands, the bathroom attendant started talking to me in Afrikaans (and to be considered a local in any country that I visit, is probably the highest compliment I can get). Since I only knew how to say "thank you" in Afrikaans it didn't take long for her to realize that I was an American. She was so sweet and had the the most infectious smile that I felt a kindred spirit connection. Before I left, she asked me if I had any sweets. At first I thought she wanted money, but I hadn't brought any cash with me on the hike, so I just apologized and shyly fumbled with my backpack. She laughed and asked again, "No sweet child, I'm hungry it was a long day. I wonder if you have any sweets in your bag." I searched in my bag and found a pack of gum. I figured it wasn't even worthy of offering, but I offered her a piece of gum anyways. Her face lit up so much that you would think I had given her a Cadbury chocolate bar. The gratitude that she expressed for such a menial act of kindness left me feeling extremely humbled for the rest of the night. I never caught her name, but I think of her often. Small encounters always seem to have a major impact on my life. 

Cape Peninsula Excursion

Cape Peninsula Excursion

Four days in Cape Town presents a time crunch for experiencing all that the incredible city has to offer. Writing down lists is my way of organizing the continual racetrack that is my mind, so in typical fashion I had already made a list of my top excursions I wanted to experience while in Cape Town, South Africa. Without much knowledge of the travel time between spots in and around Cape Town, I wrote a list that was deemed impossible to do in four days. However, our good friend Andrew helped us to get the most out of our short time in Cape Town (and looking back at my list, we did everything except surfing and diving; which just means I need to go back soon). 

Seeing the seal and penguin colonies was at the top of our plans, and we got even more than we expected with a full day of exploring the Cape Peninsula. Our guide for the day picked us up at the apartment at 7am, and immediately made me wish I had drank another espresso to keep up with him. Our trek van was filled with a diverse group of travelers from Germany, Brazil, England, and Argentina. All of our various backgrounds made for stimulating conversations throughout the day.

Hout Bay was our first stop of the day. We hopped on a boat and made our way to the seal colony out on the rock formations in the middle of the bay. I closed my eyes, feeling the sunshine sinking into my skin and the wind combing through my hair. Moments later Edwin grabbed my arm, and we were awestruck at the site in front of us. We quickly grabbed our cameras and started capturing the colony of seals playing in the water and lounging on the rocks. As the others gravitated towards the bow of the ship, my lens focused on a seal pup gravitating towards the water about to dive in. As I waited for the perfect moment to snap the pup jumping into the clear blue water, the pup's eyes looked straight into my lens. That enigmatic connection could have been fabricated in my own subconscious, but I swear it felt as if that moment had been created specifically for me. 

As we made our way back to land, surrounded by rocky cliffs and stunning blue water, Edwin and I laughed at how beautiful and intricate it all was. This feeling lasted throughout the day as we bicycled to the most Southwestern point of Africa, saw the African penguins at Boulders Bay, and discussed the history and culture of South Africa with our guide and local craftsmen. 

Check out all of the scenery, wildlife, and good vibes in my Cape Peninsula excursion video

 

Favorite Spots in NYC

Favorite Spots in NYC

Living in Chinatown has major perks. For starters, you're right in the heart of downtown, making it a breeze to hit the West Village, Soho, Nolita, or even Union Square. As you can imagine, the city is full of cozy cafes and coffee joints on every block. As a black coffee drinker for nearly a third of my life (yes you read that right, my first espresso was at the ripe young age of 14), I take careful consideration into finding my go-to coffee shops in every city I have the opportunity to live in for a period of time. 

I floated around NYC on a caffeine cloud discovering the city's best coffee and cafes so that you don't have to. Below are my top spots in the city (primarily downtown Manhattan). 

Greecologies The outdoor patio is the perfect oasis. I recommend the iced coffee with almond milk or an almond milk latte. 

Happy Bones Counter Culture coffee for $2 in Manhattan?! Yes please. The black coffee is incredible, but the cafe is extremely tiny so don't expect to sit down and get work done. This is my go-to for good coffee and cool baristas on my way to work or before filming. 

Two Hands: A cafe and Australian breakfast spot that quickly became my obsession. The acai bowl is heavenly, and the almond milk matcha latte will make you want to sing praises. 

Brooklyn Roasting Co: Located right across the Manhattan Bridge on Jay Street, this is the perfect spot to get work done or have meetings. The coffee is always smooth, and there is plenty of seating in the old warehouse. The alternate location in Flatiron always has open seating as well, and the wifi connection is strong. 

Joe & The Juice: Dozens of fresh juice options, a free photo booth, strong coffee, and friendly baristas? Yea that's Joe & The Juice on Spring Street. They just opened up about a month ago, and are quickly becoming a sensation in Soho.

La Colombe: Okay, this cafe gets on the list primarily because one of favorite human beings works at this hot spot. The only pitfall to this cafe is that there isn't any wifi, but that means that there is quick turnover on seats, and you can get lots of writing done here without social media distractions. 

Got any cafes that you think should make the list? I'd love to know about them, and check out the coffee for myself (or hey, lets meet up and go together, why not?) so leave me a comment below or connect on my contact page. 

12 Hours in Dublin

12 Hours in Dublin

It’s always a little nerve-racking when traveling with a new travel companion. It’s true that the best way to get to know someone is by going on a trip with that person. Nothing tests a person’s adaptability quite like a 21 hour layover, or a last minute decision to wake up after an hour of sleep to go whale watching.

Edwin is a friend of my sister Allie, and we had met each other multiple times, but we really only knew of each other through stories from Allie. We hadn’t even been out for a drink with one another and we were about to travel 28 hours together then spend a week in South Africa (joined by Allie), then travel back another 35 hours!

To put it lightly, we both had our own inhibitions about the travel plans.  However it didn’t take long for all of our worries to subside. After an 8 hour flight from Chicago to Dublin we took shots of Irish espresso and were ready to make the most out of our 13 hour layover.

                                                               KEY NOTES

-The Book of Kells was turned to a page with the passage, Luke 13.23-33, translated into English stating, “Strive to enter by the narrow gate.” You know those moments where life just sort of hits you, and you’re reminded that inspiration is everywhere? Yea, that was this moment. I felt like that passage was meant for me, and so I scribbled it down in my pocket notebook and we were off to find some Irish food.

-Guinness Factory Tour costs 20 euros, but you get a big draft Guinness at the end of the tour. Be sure to hit the sky bar to enjoy a view of Dublin while enjoying your beer.

-There are plenty of vintage shops to look around in right around the River Liffey canal.

-Eat at Temple Bar, 47-48 Temple Bar, Dublin 2, Ireland.

-Bus transportation from the airport to the city costs 10 euro roundtrip, and was extremely easy to use.

Touchdown in Cape Town

Touchdown in Cape Town

   We were picked up last night by our new friend Andrew. After the 32 hours of traveling, we were in a sleep deprived daze, and the promise of an actual bed was the only thing on our minds. However, I was way too excited to sleep in, and ended up waking up at 7a.m for an easy run around our new city. Now when I say "easy", it was anything but that, because Cape Town is one steep hill after another. I had been used to running in Manhattan where the steepest hill we have is the beginning of the Williamsburg Bridge. But the challenge was welcomed with open arms, and I ended up running a short bit of Table Mountain before I headed back to wake up Edwin from his (much needed) sleep coma. 

  Luckily our place had great WiFi, so we were able to connect with Allie on WhatsApp when she landed at Cape Town International Airport. We sat out in the sunshine eating grapes and awaiting her arrival. I hadn't seen my sister for months, so when she stepped out of the Uber, we both ran towards each other (in one of those sappy cinematic montage moments) and I swear we both had never smiled bigger than that moment right there. 

  Our first stop was to the waterfront. We walked along the boardwalk, went into the mall for a bit, and explored the shops and restaurants along the water. Ambiance is a major factor in deciding where to eat for us, so of course we ended up at an outdoor restaurant with the best view of Table Mountain, docked sailboats, and people watching. The conversion rate from US dollars to South African rand is incredibly cheap (10 rand is 75 cents), so I went big and ordered a kilo of mussels for roughly 5 dollars. You can't beat that! 

  After fueling up we grabbed a taxi to the trail head to climb Lion's Head Mountain. In hindsight, we definitely should have started our trek a couple hours before we did, because once the sun set it was too dark to climb safely to the top. We started the hike at 6pm with amazing sunset views and watched as the sky changed colors as we made our way up. The hike itself is an easy climb, and only starts to have unsteady rock footing as you get to the last third of the mountain. The path narrows and if you're not careful the loose rocks could result in dangerous situations. We kept hiking to the top with our flashlights once darkness set in, but we made the decision to head back down once the ledge and path became hard to find. Always remember that it's not always the hike up a mountain that is difficult, but hikers usually run into trouble on the way back down. Unsteady footing, loosing the trail, or making a wrong turn in the dark can be extremely dangerous. 

  Since it was the first Thursday of the month, Cape Town art galleries, bars, and other cultural attractions stay open late in the central and East city districts. After getting freshened up, we made our way down to Bree Street to check out the nightlife in Cape Town. 

  I had the most incredible burger at Inside & You're Out on Bree Street. It was so good that I might have to make special trips from NYC to CapeTown just for that burger and kale chips. I highly recommend checking them out!