Monday, October 20, 2014

Talking Iceland

On the day I was heading off to Georgia, I reported on my fortnight in Iceland. Here's the segment that aired on Around the World Radio in California on October 9. To accompany my dulcet tones, here are a few images. Please note: The segment cuts out about seven minutes in, but we reconnect after the hosts ramble for two minutes.

Skaftafell Glacier

 The Black Sand Beaches of Vik

Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon

Reykjavik: The Sun Voyager 

Landscape near Krafla Volcano

Hverfjall Crater near Lake Myvatn

Pseudocraters near Lake Myvatn

The Northern Lights

Reykjavik: Church of Hallgrimur and Leif Eriksson

Hofn in the Eastern Fjord Region

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Curious Georgia: Nine Things to Know


To clarify before we count down, we are talking Georgia of Eastern Europe/west of Russia--not south of the Mason-Dixon Line.


1. Why is Georgia called Georgia? There are three theories.

--St. George is the patron saint in these parts.
--Some accounts I see online says it comes from the Perisan word gurj ...meaning wolf.
--I tend to believe my lovely guide, Tamara Natenadze, who says it comes from the Greek georgios, meaning land of agricultural or cultivation. She says Greeks came to the area in the first century before Christ and were surprised to find such an advanced culture....

2. ....which included wine production. Georgia has an uninterrupted 8,000-year history of grape cultivation, making it the oldest wine-producing region in the world. About 535 varieties of grapes are grown here.

3. Georgians, by the by, called themselves 'Kartvelebi'...derived from the pagan god Kartlos, said to be the father of all Georgians.

4. King of Queens: King Tamar was a woman who ruled Georgia during its medieval Golden Age.

5. More Girl Power, Georgia-Style: St. Nino brought Christianity to the region in 330 AD after wandering here from Cappadoccia.

6. The town where Joseph Stalin was born, and where a self-aggrandizing museum to the tyrannical dictator is located (opening date--1957), is called...appropriately... Gori.

7. Ushguli, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the highest village in Europe, located 7,218 feet above sea level.

8. Georgian Cultures: They eat lots of yogurt here, called matsoni. In places, it is made with the milk of water buffalo.

9. Dannon's 1977 ad featuring Georgian centenarians was the first US commercial shot in the former Soviet Union. It put both Georgia and yogurt on the map....although I highly doubt locals opt for the commercial brand.












Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Let's Talk Live About Airbnb

I chatted about Airbnb, taxes and regulation (oooh, sexy) on today's Let's Talk Live in Washington, DC. Below is the promo and here is the clip of the segment. Let me know what you think.



Monday, October 6, 2014

10 Images of Iceland

It's a busy week of media appearances. Today, I head over to WJLA-TV studios to do a Let's Talk Live segment about Airbnb. On Thursday, I report on Iceland for Around the World Radio in California. In the interim, I need to polish off an article about private schools for The Washington Post. Whew. 

If you aren't quite as busy, feel free to peruse these pictures of Iceland.

Simply put, Iceland is one of the most stunningly beautiful countries I have visited...and I have been to more than 50. It's raw, it's rugged and it's dramatic. The next several blog posts will be filled with images of scenic wonders (waterfalls, geysers, glaciers, craters and pseudo-craters); livestock (sheep and horses); and village scenes that seem to come straight out of the imagination. Oh, and did I mention the Northern Lights?

The Ring Road circles the island of Iceland, traveling through countryside and fjords,and past countless waterfalls, glaciers, and volcanoes. In all, it's more than 800 miles long.


Dettifoss in Northeastern Iceland is consideredthe most powerful waterfall in Europe.

Ho hum, another waterfall. Seljalandsfoss is in Southern Iceland. You can actually walk behind it!

Pseudocraters around Lake Myvatn in Northern Iceland.

Where else can you see pseudocraters? Mars.

Hverfell is an actual crater estimated to be 2,800-years-old. Located near Lake Myvatn, it's nearly 460 feet deep and more than half a mile around. Hverfell is one of Iceland’s most symmetrical volcanic explosion craters, and one of the largest of its kind in the world. I climbed to the top and looked around inside.


Vatnajökull National Park is home to the largest glacier outside of the polar regions. Arrive in Skaftafell and book a tour to walk on the glacier...or just amble around it. Skaftafell is four hours east of Reykjavik.









Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon is actually the result of global warming (yes, Virginia, it exists). Located near Vatnajökull  this deep lake is filled with icebergs appearing to be blue. You can take a boat trip around the ice, or opt to get closer via a Zodiac.



These last two shots are designed to tease you into coming back for more. Djúpivogur is a charming town in the Eastern fjord region, and the place where I found my Monopoly game (and a designer leather dress and a reindeer bracelet). 


Below, one of many images of the Northern Lights, as seen around Lake Myvatn on the night of major solar flare activity. Note--this picture was taken with a Nikon Cool Pix L-820--not a fancy camera. No tripod was used.




For more information on Iceland, go to www.visiticeland.com.

Monday, September 29, 2014

9 Cool Things to Know About Iceland

1. Geyser comes from the Icelandic word Geysir, meaning hot spring. That, in turn, comes from the Old Norse Geysa, meaning to rush forth.

2. Iceland is considered among the Top 10 happiest countries in the world. What's not to like? 

3. That said, Iceland could be said to be splitting apart. The country runs along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, meaning, geographically, it includes parts of both the European and North American continental plates. This phenomenon can be best seen at Þingvellir National Park, the site of Iceland's first parliament (930 AD--the world's oldest continuously-running parliament) and plenty of fissures unrelated to politics.


4.Reykjavik played host to Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev in 1986. The meeting is considered by historians as the first thaw of the Cold War....

5. ...only adding to Iceland's reputation as the most peaceful country in the world.

6. It's also one of the most progressive in political terms. Iceland had the world's first directly-elected female head of state (1980) and the world's first openly gay head of state (2009).


7. If you clicked on the links above, you'll notice the names of both female leaders end in dóttir.  This is part of the old Nordic tradition of using patronymic names. In Iceland, surnames are not passed down from generation to generation. Instead, the suffix sson or dóttir (daughter) is added to the father's first name to create a new last name. 

8. Because people are so often referred to by their first names (even in places like Parliament and the phone book), Iceland has an officially approved list of names. Given names must be "capable of having Icelandic grammatical endings" and may not "conflict with the linguistic structure of Iceland". If a name contains a letter that doesn't not exist in the Icelandic alphabet (like C, for example), said name is verboten.

9. Iceland has 3,088 miles of coastline.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Two Handy Travel Accessories

On every long-distance road trip, I take the opportunity to test-drive new travel products. Here in Iceland, I donned a pair of thick thermal socks and a lightweight eye mask/head cushion (not at the same time) in service of my lovely readers.

Who hasn't had an issue with an eye mask? Some let too much light in, while others slip to the neck and attempt to strangle you in the middle of the night. On the other hand, some are far too tight and constrict blood flow to the skull. Enter The Travel Halo. Designed by an angel, a military veteran, the halo can make an airplane a more heavenly sleeping environment. The Travel Halo is fashioned with lightweight, breathable fabric and has a flap to fully cover the eyes. Not only that, it's a travel pillow of sorts. Two wee cushions sewn inside the back of the band cradle your head. I do wish the designer allowed those petite pillows to be adjusted, though On some heads (like mine), they will not sit quite right. The basics--$29 at www.thetravelhalo.com

In the damp, chilly climate that characterizes Iceland this time of year (heck, most of the year), I found my Heat Holders thermal socks quite handy...or rather, footy. They claim to be the warmest socks ever, seven times warmer than your average darned pair, and three times better than any other thermal sock on the market. I can't vouch for those claims, but Heat Holders kept my tootsies warm throughout my Icelandic adventures. The basics--$15.99 at www.heatholders.com








Sunday, September 14, 2014

Gluten-Free Goodies for the Road


While traveling in Iceland for two weeks, I decided to test several of the newer gluten-free nibbles on the market. My product testing had me searching for healthy, natural products. I am tired of LARA bars, have never been a fan of KIND bars, and altogether find too many gluten-free bars filled with sugar, carbohydrates, and questionable ingredients.

Sadly, the new gluten-free LUNA protein bar fits that description. Basically a chocolate candy bar, the ingredients are: Soy protein isolate, organic cane syrup, organic dried cane syrup, palm kernel oil, inulin (chicory extract), cocoa, non-organic dried cane syrup, macadamia nut butter, natural flavors (whatever that means), whey protein concentrate, chocolate, organic rice flour, salt, soy lecithin, cocoa butter, and both organic alkalized cocoa and organic vanilla extract and alkalized cocoa and vanilla extract, plus a bunch of added minerals. Whew. Nearly a score of ingredients. Plus, why bother with organics when you are also going to add in the (cheaper) non-organic version of the same ingredient? Seems like a bit of a bait and switch to me. This bar may taste good, but I doubt it's very good for you. That said, the new LUNA protein lip balm kept my lips moist and juicy throughout my trip.
Grades: LUNA Bar-D LUNA Balm A-



When I looked for bar alternatives, I was seeking out high-protein products. Aside from the LUNA line, I tried various versions of Caveman Cookies, a paleo, all-natural product with no dairy and no gluten. There are six flavors, ranging from Mayan--chocolate, chili and chia--to New World--pumpkin, maple and cranberry. The cookies have between four and eight ingredients, depending on the flavor, and all are products you can recognize (honey, various nuts, raisins, coconut spices, and dried fruits). They are soft, yummy, not terribly sweet, and about 60-70 calories a cookie. One is not going to fill you up, but it will give you a little energy spike during a long day of touring. Grade: A-



The last product I will review here is the Santa Barbara Bar. Now, this one is made with gluten-free oats, and I know that some debate whether that is an oxymoron. However, I do fine with Trader Joe's GF Oatmeal, and indeed, I didn't react to the Santa Barbara Bar. The bar is cloyingly sweet, although tasty and chewy. I tried the coconut almond version. The ingredients are almonds, brown rice syrup, whey crisps ( whey protein concentrate and rice flour), GF oats, raisins, pumpkin seeds , cashews, brown rice syrup solids, chicory fiber, honey, salt, chia seeds, sunflower lecithin, and GF oat flour. Again, that's a number of ingredients, but most of them seem relatively healthy. Grade: B


Next up: Gluten-free beef jerky and other snack items.