Derek Freal

Derek Freal

" ǝʌıʇɔǝdsɹǝd ɹǝɥʇouɐ ɯoɹɟ sƃuıɥʇ ǝǝs oʇ ǝʌol ı "
Derek is a perpetual wanderer, cultural enthusiast, and lifelong traveler. He loves going places where he does not speak a word of the local language and must communicate with hand gestures, as well as places where he is forced to squat awkwardly to poo (supposedly its healthier and more efficient). Say Hello On Twitter!

The distinct culture, deep-rooted history and magnetic energy of Brooklyn make it one of the most beloved and revered destinations in America. Celebrated around the world for its big-city excitement and unique brand of authenticity, this buzzing New York City borough--the city’s most populous--constantly attracts visitors from around the globe, and you’ll find amazing hotels in Brooklyn to fit your travel needs.

 

Things to See in Brooklyn

You should have no problem finding things to do in Brooklyn, an iconic destination that has inspired many of the world’s most famous citizens. As soon as you cross the East River on the iconic Brooklyn Bridge, you’ll immediately know you’ve arrived in one of the world’s great cultural epicenters. This National Historic Landmark connects Brooklyn to Manhattan, and has been heralded in film, television and literature for generations. Visit the 85-acre Brooklyn Bridge Park for great Manhattan skyline views, public art installations, athletic fields and playgrounds for children and adults alike, and even a restored 1920s-era merry-go-round called “Jane’s Carousel.” For local history, see the four-story Brooklyn Historical Society building, where you can peruse archives of photography, newspapers and a large library of research from borough’s past. Other museums and family-friendly places to put on your must-see list include Prospect Park Zoo, New York Transit Museum, Waterfront Museum and Showboat Barge, Brooklyn Children’s Museum, and the Coney Island Cyclone historic wooden roller coaster.

Ride an East River Ferry to get off your feet for awhile and see the city from the water. Or, head to Brighton Beach for a day in the sun and the chance to walk along the picturesque boardwalk. Nearby, Russian restaurants and bakeries serve up delicacies you’ll savor to the last bite. More delicious eats can be found on Smith Street, a hotspot for foodies and grumbling stomachs across the city.

Coney Island is another beach destination you won’t want to miss; it’s the widest beach in the area and boasts amusement rides and entertainment that will bring smiles to the young and the young at heart. Hear the soaring chorus of voices at the famous Brooklyn Tabernacle. Stroll the rolling hills of Green-Wood Cemetery, where you’ll find monuments and tombstones of a surprising number of famous figures.

For a full day of outdoor and cultural activity, head to Prospect Park where the Zoo, Museum of Art and Botanical Gardens all offer great ways to spend a few hours. The Brooklyn Museum is the second largest in New York and features artifacts that stretch from ancient Egyptians to modern day, while the Transit Museum, housed in a 1930’s subway station, has interesting displays all its own.

Brooklyn is also a hotspot for new residents of New York City. The neighborhood of Williamsburg has attracted an impressive array of new restaurants ranging from casual to fine dining, and varying in cultural diversity. There are also many bars, lounges and performance venues where you can make unique discoveries to make your visit unforgettable.

Visit Brooklyn -- they have a great bridge

Find the Best Hotels in Brooklyn

Your choices for Brooklyn Hotels range from rooms between culturally rich and trending neighborhoods to business-friendly establishments that put you close to downtown Manhattan, and many of the area’s central locations for business and government. You can expect around-the-clock amenities and services at many Brooklyn hotels, including 24-hour restaurants and room service, as well as all-day business center access.

 

Where to Stay in Brooklyn

Brooklyn Heights, the area’s oldest neighborhood, and downtown Brooklyn are usually preferred locations for business travelers looking to stay near Manhattan. Diverse neighborhoods like Fort Greene offer amazing architecture, reputable cafes, arts, entertainment and cultural experiences that put New York City’s reputation as a cultural melting pot on display.

The neighborhoods of Park Slope and Brooklyn Heights both offer boutiques and cafes, while Cobble Hill is worth walking through for the houses and neighborhood buzz alone. Williamsburg is the city’s creative hub, home to some of the best restaurants and most talented live entertainment. The nightlife here needs no introduction and party-goers won’t have to look far to find a cold drink and a bumping bass line.

 

How to Get to Brooklyn

The New York City metropolitan area is served by three key airports: John F. Kennedy International Airport, LaGuardia Airport and Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey.  JFK, at just 11 miles distance, is the closest airport to Brooklyn. It offers convenient service to Clinton Hill, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Williamsburg and Bushwick via Air Train, with less than an hour of travel time. LaGuardia Airport (LGA) is 16 miles away from central Brooklyn. Taxi or private transportation services are advised to and from LaGuardia, as there is no direct public transportation into Brooklyn. Newark Liberty is 21 miles from Brooklyn, with arrival times usually within an hour using the Air Train, then the Path train or NJ Transit to either Penn Station, the World Trade Center or Manhattan’s 33rd Street. Another option is the Airport Express Bus which goes to subway-connected Manhattan locations like Grand Central Station, Bryant Park and the Port Authority Bus Terminal.

  This post is originally from IHG's Guide to Brooklyn   via leeayork

A hugely popular favorite with cruises and resort dwellers, you could be mistaken for believing that there is no stone left unturned in The Bahamas. However, these islands have a wealth of hidden gems which make them a must for anyone’s traveling bucket list.

Swimming around an underwater airplane wreck in the Bahamas
Photo via WikiMedia

Underwater Plane Wreck

If you’ve ever wanted to explore deep sea wreckages, head to the island of Norman’s Cay where the remains of a smuggling plane lie under 6 feet of warm Bahamian waters. The wreckage can be easily explored with a snorkel, just watch out for the nurse sharks who like to sleep under its wings!

Flamingos in the Bahamas
Photo via WikiMedia

Lake Rosa

Located on the island of Great Inaguas, Lake Rosa (also known as Lake Windsor) is home to some 80,000 West Indian flamingos, making it one of the largest flamingo sanctuaries in the world. The birds feed in the wetlands of Rosa Lake which is within the Inagua National Park 287-square-mile reserve. Stretching 12 miles, Lake Rosa is also home to a vast array of other species including herons, ducks, pelicans and roseate spoonbills, making it the ideal destination for bird watchers.

Mount Alvernia

Complete with a medieval style monastery, Mount Alvernia (also known as Como Hill) is the highest point in the Bahamas. Although only 206ft above sea level, the view from the top is stunning so make sure to pack your camera. The monastery was built in 1939 by a Catholic Priest, Father Jerome, who named the hill Mount Alvernia, after a mountain in Tuscany which was given to St Francis of Assisi.

Look at the size of this seashell
Photo via WikiMedia

Doc Sands’ Conch Stall

There are so many places to eat out in the Bahamas, but none quite as awesome as Doc Sands’ Conch Stall. Proprietor Nicola Sands treats customers to the preparation of their meal, as she shucks the conch flesh and chops it into the salad right in front of them. Located by the Paradise Bridge, Doc Sands’ Conch Stall is a must for anyone traveling the Bahamas on a budget.

Clifton Heritage Park

Hidden away on the island of Nassau, Clifton Heritage Park is most definitely off the beaten track, as it is not even accessible by public transportation. With historical ruins such as the Pirate Steps, as well as three stunning secluded beaches, a sacred circle and an underwater sculpture garden, this park is perfect for anyone wanting to get away from the crowds.

Glass Window Bridge

Originally a natural stone arch connecting the northern and southern parts of the island of Eleuthera, the Glass Window Bridge is an amazing example of nature at its best. Though the natural arch was destroyed by hurricanes many years ago, the bridge has been rebuilt since and still goes by the name given to it by artist Winslow Homer in 1885. Also known as the “narrowest place on earth”, the bridge provides a panoramic view of the striking contrast between the rich navy blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean and the calm turquoise-aqua waters of the Caribbean Sea, separated by a strip of rock no more than 30ft wide. Stunning!

Man's oldest dream has been to fly and thankfully nowadays this goal is within reach of each of us. Unfortunately flying is addictive. After that first plane ticket, that first view of the earth from above and all the people "like ants" down below, well then life on the surface will never be the same.

Aerial view between the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas

At first it starts with window seats and a neverending gaze out the window at the terrain below. But eventually flying gets boring. You gradually start opting for aisle seats instead of windows. The whole process becomes a chore, rather than a joy.

So I bought a drone. And that helped, briefly. Once again I felt as free as a bird, flying high above "the ants" below me.

Aerial view of Sydney Harbour

But eventually even drone flying becomes boring. So what is the next logical step? Getting a recreational pilot license! One of my best friends back in Austin got his earlier this year and swears it is the best decision he ever made.

Flying a floatplane into Sydney Harbour
Landing our floatplane in Sydney Harbour

Flying lessons are fun, but they take time. Before embarking on such an adventure, make sure you are somewhere that you don't mind staying for a while. Flying lessons in Sydney are a great idea because not only is Australia gorgeous from up above but Sydney is a diverse city with plenty of ways to pass the time when not up in the air.

Still uncertain? Check out all these unique and unusual things to do in Sydney in between your flying lessons.

  flickr // dullhunk

These days, more and more people are realizing that taking a bike tour is a wonderful way to enjoy the outdoors, spend time with friends, and travel. If you've recently decided that you want to take a bike tour, now is the time to learn how you can make the event absolutely incredible. Use some or all of the information found in this quick reference guide to ensure that your bike tour will be absolutely amazing:

1. Get In Shape.

If you're serious about making your next bike tour a blast, make sure that you get in shape. Huffing and puffing your way through your bike travels can be embarrassing, and it will also prevent you from enjoying the scenery and the organic group conversations that tend to surface during such events. With all of this in mind, make sure that you are getting in all of the exercises necessary to ensure that your body can handle a long-distance ride.

Vietnamese man exercising in the street early one morning
Vietnamese man exercising in the street early one morning. One can only assume he was working those quads so eloquently to get ready for some intense hiking and mountain biking.

The best way to get in shape so you can enjoy your bike trip to the fullest is by doing a combination of cardio, weight-lifting, and stretching. You can typically complete each of these forms of exercise within the gym setting. You may even want to work with a personal trainer as you prepare for the bike travel event. Fitness experts will generally be able to devise a dynamic, customized exercise routine that enables you to build strength and increase cardiovascular endurance.

Bicycling Central Park in New York City
Bicycling around Central Park one day...

2. Find The Perfect Bike Rental Company.

In addition to getting in shape, make sure that you take time to find the perfect bike rental company. This strategy will empower you to ensure that you have the best bike equipment on the block. There are several attributes that you'll want to look for in a rental company. Some of them include:

  • positive online reviews
  • a great Better Business Bureau (BBB) rating
  • industry experience (preferably five years or longer)
  • perks and benefits (discounts, referral programs, etc.)

When you start looking for the ideal company, be sure to keep the professionals of Bike Rental Central Park in mind. These industry experts provide clients with equipment they can use for Central Park bike tours.

Bike tours are great, especially when in beautiful destinations like Hawaii
Bicycling in Hawaii

3. Book Your Flight And Hotel In Advance.

One final technique that can help you enjoy your bike trip to the fullest is booking your flight and hotel in advance. This strategy will empower you to attain competitive rates on your room and plane. Also consider the value of doing a group booking to attain even deeper discounts.

Don't Delay: Start Preparing For Your Bike Tour Today!

If you're ready to go on a bike tour, don't procrastinate. Instead, start preparing now to ensure that you can have an absolutely amazing time. Three preparation strategies that can help you make the most of your event include getting in shape, finding the right bike rental company, and booking your flight and hotel in advance. Implement these strategies now to ensure that your bike tour is incredible!

Sitting alongside Silom Road right in the heart of Bangkok lies the Bangkok Seashell Museum. Always a fan of unique and offbeat museums, I decided to stop on in the other day with a friend who was visiting town.

The small but modern Bangkok Seashell Museum is three stories and is packed full of thousands and thousands of seashells from hundreds of different species all painstakingly arranged by size and color into elaborate displays. Most have information on where/when they were found. Was quite surprised to see that the shells here come from countries around the world, not just Thailand and other Southeat Asian nations.

Signs in Thai and English scattered on the walls of each floor provided detailed information on the types of species we were looking at and where these specimen were found. The museum is definitely interesting, even if you do not know the slightest thing about seashells except that they tend to be found on beaches more than mountains. Tend to.

Entrance was 150 baht per person (around $4 USD) and despite being three stories, you only need 30-45 minutes to thoroughly examine and chat about everything. If nothing else, it is a great way to escape that horrendous Bangkok heat for a bit.

Colorful seashells at the Bangkok Seashell Museum in Thailand
Colorful shells...

Big seashells at the Bangkok Seashell Museum in Thailand
...big shells...

Small seashells at the Bangkok Seashell Museum in Thailand
...small shells. There's a shell for every shape and size at Bangkok Seashell Museum

Giant clam at the Bangkok Seashell Museum in Thailand
Tridacna gigas, otherwise known as the aptly named Giant Clam, live in offshore reefs 2-20 metres deep (6-65 feet) and can weigh up to 300kg. This giant clam only weighs 150kg (330lbs), despite one side of its shell being more than a metre across. (That's almost four feet. No one is stealing it anytime soon.)

Yes, the Bangkok Seashell Museum is pretty damn cool.

So cool it even won an award for being a "very good" recreational activity. That's certainly no "outstanding" and not quite an "honorable mention" but hey at least you're getting closer. Keep up the good work.

Bangkok Seashell Museum in Thailand

  Pin much? Here ya go!  

Photo journey and travel guide for the Bangkok Seashell Museum in Thailand

Bangkok Seashell Museum in Thailand

Bangkok Seashell Museum in Thailand

Bangkok Seashell Museum in Thailand

Bangkok Seashell Museum in Thailand

Bangkok Seashell Museum in Thailand
Throughout the museum there are giant signs on the walls in both Thai and English further explaining about the seashells on display, the differences between species, even when and where they were found.

2nd Floor

2nd floor of the Bangkok Seashell Museum

Bangkok Seashell Museum in Thailand

3rd Floor

3rd floor of the Bangkok Seashell Museum

Bangkok Seashell Museum in Thailand

Bangkok Seashell Museum in Thailand

Bangkok Seashell Museum in Thailand

Bangkok Seashell Museum in Thailand

Bangkok Seashell Museum in Thailand

Bangkok Seashell Museum in Thailand

Bangkok Seashell Museum in Thailand

Bangkok Seashell Museum in Thailand

Bangkok Seashell Museum in Thailand

Want more unique museums?

Now Museum, Now You Don't: Strange American Museums

Most people head to the sunshine state for a dose of its unrivalled surf and sand, the golf courses, and some of the world’s best theme parks and nature reserves, but Florida is also home to other great options like a variety of delicious culturally diverse foods. So if you’re looking to head down to Florida for a relaxing vacation, here are some of the top eats for you to pick from.

1. Cuban Sandwich

This delicious sandwich should be on the radar of anyone visiting southern Florida, and was originally made in cafés catering to early Cuban immigrants. It has become the signature sandwich of the city of Tampa and features Cuban bread, ham, roasted pork, Swiss cheese, pickles, mustard, and occasionally salami (as in Tampa).

The Cuban, arguably the most famous Florida food -- and one that every visitor to Florida must try

2. Rock Shrimp

Florida’s rock shrimp are a great starter or as a snack to enjoy while relaxing and having an afternoon drink. Pair them with a sweet dip, a traditional shrimp sauce, or for those looking for a bit of a kick, something spicy. Caught just off the Florida coast, they’re always fresh and tasty.

3. Conch Fritters

Made in the Florida Keys—nicknamed the Conch republic—these large shellfish can be baked with lemon slices and lemon juice, to produce a tender meat, not unlike ceviche. Another popular method is to chop and mix them with other meats and vegetables, then deep-fry them, which produces the crunchy and flavourful Florida style fritters.

Make sure to try conch fritters when in Florida

4. Swamp Cabbage

This traditional Floridian food has been around for centuries, dating back well before colonialism. Swamp cabbage is better known as the heart of palm and is extracted from the sabal palm trees that are native to Florida. The heart of palm can be stewed until tender in a rich tomato sauce, or with water (or broth), meat, and dripping, then served up hot ready to be enjoyed.

5. Key Lime Pie

Another dish out of the Florida Keys, Key West to be specific, this cool and refreshing pie is made from lime juice, egg yolk, and sweetened condensed milk, which is whipped, thickened, and served on a crisp crust to produce a dish that is both smooth and zesty. It’s the absolute perfect dessert for a hot Florida day.

Key Lime Pie, a famous florida food that you must try

6. Floribbean Cuisine

There are many types of dishes in Florida that have roots in the Caribbean islands, using ingredients like mangos, papayas, plantains, and coconuts. These include Jamaican jerk chicken, arroz con pollo, and different style barbecues such as Cuban, Puerto Rican, and Bahamian. If you see a Caribbean influenced restaurant in Florida, odds are you’re in for a treat.

So if you’re booking your flights in the USA to Florida, remember, there are plenty of fun things to do, just remember to leave a little time to discover the delicious culinary scene. Please feel free to add your Florida food suggestions in the comments below.

  Images by johnjoh istolethetv and ralphandjenny used under the Creative Commons License.

Medellin. The City of Eternal Spring. This business city turned tourist hub may never be able to shake away the memories of Pablo Escobar and the Medellin cartel, but that's okay. History builds character and the modern Medellin has become one of the safest (and most fun) cities in the world. Plus there are many more memorable things to see, do, eat and enjoy around the city nowadays -- like experiencing a colorful Christmas in Medellin.

Imagine wandering around a city illuminated by over 30 million Christmas lights, including over 800 kilometres of rope lights and tens of thousands of glowing figures and displays. Known as El Alumbrado ("the lighting") this unique tradition is truly one for the bucket list.

Christmas in Colombina is best celebrated in Medellin with El Alumbrado

A Colorful & Delicious Christmas in Medellin, Colombia

Although public lights displays in the city during the holiday season date back to the 1850's, it's really only been during the last 50 years that the modern light show has evolved. Beginning the first week of December and lasting until mid-January, the Christmas lights of Medellin have become such a big event that in recent years more than four million people from around the world come to Medellin to experience El Alumbrado. Nowadays there is a different theme every year -- and gets a little bit more grandiose every year. Past themes include "Colombia is Light" "Our Chistmas" and "Values Illuminate Christmas".

The entire event is focused around the lights over and along the Medellin River, which cuts right through the center of town. Colorful lights flow across the water and illuminate its surface. It truly is a magical sight to behold.

El Alumbrado in Medellin is the perfect way to spend an authentic Christmas in Colombia

According to numbers on last year's El Alumbrado, the Christmas lights are estimated to use 0.8 gigawatt-hours of total electric power over 45 days, which is equivalent to about 50 minutes of total power consumption in city of Medellín over the entire year. The entire event has been coordinated by the Empresas Públicas de Medellín (EPM) since 1967, so we can expect even more extravagent lightings as they approach the 50th anniversary.

El Alumbrado in Medellin is the only way to spend Christmas in Colombia

A Feast for the Eyes and the Stomach

While the lights of Medellin may be the main highlight of the Christmas season, the food comes in a close second. Here are some of my favorite Colombian consumables that every visitor needs to try:

Buñuelos - Fried cheese balls. Unconvinced by that description, need I say more? These juicy treats are so delicious that you can find them year-round in many parts of Colombia. However they are much more common (and addictive) during the Christmas season.

Hojuelas - Because frying makes everything better, hojuelas are also a popular winter pastry. They come in many different forms, from elongated fried crisps to triangluar shapes that resemble samosas and even more elegant designs, such as flowers.

Natilla - This custard pudding comes in a seemingly never-ending variety of shapes, colors and varieties depending upon where you try it. Served cold it may look unappealing at first try it but trust me -- nothing with this much sugar in it can be bad.

Ready for Christmas in Medellin yet?

  This post was brought to you by the fine folks at Medellin Travel @medellin_travel

  flickr // Ivan Jota chilangoco Ivan Jota

Situated in between Fort Worth and Dallas, Arlington, Texas, is home to tons of sights and activities. Best known as the home of the Dallas Cowboys football team and a couple of major amusement parks, Arlington is a fun, touristy city. Many visitors overlook the city's best attractions, though. The next time you find yourself passing through Arlington, check out some of these unique and offbeat destinations

International Bowling Museum and Hall of Fame

When people think of Arlington, the first thing that invariably pops into their heads is the sprawling Six Flags Over Texas amusement park. Travel just down the road from the rollercoasters and rides, and you'll find the International Bowling Museum and Hall of Fame. Located right next to the highway, this place isn't exactly off the beaten path, but it's definitely unique.

Welcome to the International Bowling Museum
photo via eagrick

Did you know that bowling was originally invented by the ancient Egyptians? Or how a bowling ball is made? You can learn lots of interesting things at the bowling museum, even if you're not a big fan of the sport. The museum is full of historical information, a bowlers' hall of fame, and interactive exhibits that offer a great way to kill an hour. There's even a miniature bowling alley at the end for you to get in a round or two before leaving.

If you're a bowler, then visiting this place is a must. The Bowling International Training & Research Center is also located on site, so you could run into a professional bowler during your visit.

World's First Billy Bass Adoption Center

Anyone who lived in the United States in the late 1990s remembers the commercials for the singing fish mounted on a plaque, the Big Mouth Billy Bass. The commercial had one of those annoying jingles that gets stuck in your head. Between the jingle and the sheer ridiculousness of a singing fish hanging on the wall, these things actually proved to be a brief hit before they found their permanent home tucked away in a closet.

The world's first and only Billy Bass adoption center is one of the unique and offbeat places keeping Arlington interesting

The Billy Bass Adoption Center is located within a popular Arlington restaurant known as the Flying Fish. This places serves excellent seafood with a Cajun twist, and it's worth visiting just for the food. The massive collection of novelty singing bass is an added bonus, though. Have one somewhere around your house? Bring it with you and make a donation!

Anish Kapoor's "Sky Mirror"

As the name implies, "Sky Mirror" is a 6-meter-wide stainless-steel dish that serves as a giant mirror. It's angled so that one side reflects down on the people standing in front of it, while the other side reflects up toward the sky. Anish Kapoor, the same artist who created Chicago's famous "Cloud Gate" reflective sculpture, also designed "Sky Mirror."

The Sky Mirror is one of the unique and offbeat places that makes Arlington interesting
photo via vincehuang

Originally unveiled in 2001 in Nottingham, England, "Sky Mirror" quickly became a popular sculpture. It's moved several times over the years and even spawned a couple of imitations. Since 2013, it has resided outside Arlington's AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys.

Do you have any other unique and offbeat destinations to recommend in Arlington?

"During summer when it's 24 hours of daylight, we drink to celebrate that. When it's winter and only a few hours of daylight, we drink just to get through it." Welcome to Iceland, a country with a complex and interesting relationship love of alcohol -- including several unique types of alcohol that are available nowhere else in the world. As such, no trip to Iceland is complete without visiting a few cities and regions that are famous for their local brews.

  Much like the United States, Iceland has a complex past with prohibition -- one that started earlier and lasted many, many decades longer. Enacted in 1915, the ban on alcohol was eventually loosened over the years on certain spirits, but unfortunately beer over 2.25% remained illegal until March 1st, 1989.

In order to have the most authentic Icelandic experience available, be sure to make a few new local friends over the following drinks:

Brennivín

Brennivín is unquestionably the national drink of Iceland. It is a purely Icelandic creation using potato mash and herbs native to this Nordic island nation to create an unsweetened schnapps. Sometimes called "Black Death" in reference to the original bottles, which featured a white skull on a black label, Brennivín is primarily served chilled in shot form. It is often accompanied with Icelandic hákarl (fermented shark), the national dish of Iceland. Although I am an adventurous eater, I much prefer my Brennivín sans-shark. Why? Well, as Anthony Bourdain so eloquently said, Hákarl is "the single worst, most disgusting and terrible tasting thing" that he has ever eaten anywhere in the world.

Would you like a little Hákarl with your Brennivín? Yes please!
Would you like a little Hákarl with your Brennivín?

Because Brennivín is unsweetened, outside of Iceland it is sometimes referred to as an "akvavit" instead of a schnapps. Regardless, it is surprisingly smooth, hits hard, and has no shortage of foreign fans despite the fact that Brennivín has never been exported internationally. At least not until 2014 when Egill Skallagrímsson, the countriest premiere Brennivín brand and also an award-winning beer brewery, began exporting Brennivín to the United States -- but no where else. Yet.

  While Brennivín can be found throughout the country, never is it in more abundance than during Þorrablót, the Icelandic mid-winter festival every January.

Fjallagrasa Moss Schnapps

There is an old saying that the worse something tastes, the better it is for you. That would appear to be a big selling point behind Fjallagrasa Moss Schnapps, which yes, is made with real Icelandic moss. There is even a tuft of the famous lichen lovingly included in each bottle produced. Icelandic moss is so important that it is protected by law and has been used medicinally for centuries to treat things such as cough, sore throat and upset stomach. (Of course if you drink too much Fjallagrasa, you are liable to end up with one of these afflictions, rather than curing it.)

Fjallagrasa Moss Schnapps, one of the unique types of alcohol only found in Iceland

The moss is hand-picked in the mountains of Iceland, ground up and mixed with a "specially prepared alcohol blend" which remains a trade secret of IceHerbs, the company that produces Fjallagrasa. It is then soaked for an extended period of time, allowing all of the biologically active components of the moss to dissolve. No other artificial colors or flavors are added.

Just like with Brennivín, as there is no sugar in Fjallagrasa Moss Schnapps, it is technically not a schnapps by international definition. Regardless, it is still consumed around the country for both healthly and recreational purposes.

Iceland has many unique types of alcohol not found anywhere else in the world

Reyka Vodka

Vodka may not be an Nordic creation (we owe Poland for that one) however Icelanders may have perfected it. Reyka Vodka is often referred to as the best vodka in the world by vodka connesiours. Using pure arctic water naturally filtered through a 4,000 year old lava field and then distilled in a top-of-the-line Carter-Head still -- one of only six that exist in the entire world, and the only one that is being used for vodka -- the result is so pure and delicious it goes down like water.

Reyka Vodka, arguably the best vodka in the world

With only one still Reyka is brewed in small batches of only 1,700 litres each, ensuring optimal quality every time. As an added bonus, the entire Reyka distillery is powered by volcanic geo-thermal energy, meaning that the world's best vodka is also the greenest. Everyone wins.

  Although this is Iceland's first distillery, public tours are unfortunately not available. But you can take a digital tour to see exclusive photos and learn more about the process that makes Reyka vodka so special here.

Opal

Opal is a popular licorice candy in Iceland and also the name of an equally popular vodka that also tastes like licorice. As my local buddy put it, "Once you outgrow the candy you switch to the drink." At 27% ABV Opal is not the strongest, but if you are a fan of Jägermeister straight then you will probably enjoy an Opal shot or three.

Opal is a unique type of vodka only found in Iceland

Bjórlíki

Up until 1989, the only type of beer that was legal in Iceland was the weak "near-beer" consisting of only 1-2% alcohol content. However because 40% ABV spirits such as Brennivin and vodka were legal, people would add them to their beer. Known as Bjórlíki, you will never find this for sale in any store or bar. However if you venture off the beaten path and explore the Icelandic countryside, you can taste this beauty for yourself.

Bjorliki, a weak Pilsner spiked with vodka, is a unique type of alcohol only found in Iceland

Björk & Birkir

Made from the sap of birch trees, Björk and Birkir are two relatively new Icelandic creations. Sure they might not have the history or significance of other drinks such as Brennivín and Bjórlíki, but c'mon now where else in the world can find liquor made from birch trees? Yeah, that's what I thought.

As the story goes, the two brothers behind Foss distillery traveled around Iceland sampling all the native flora until they decided that birch was the most delicious. So they planted what will one day become a sustainable birch forest and now gently "borrow" a little sap from the growing trees to make their spirits. Oh and in case you were wondering, the 27.5% ABV Björk is not named after the singer but rather the Icelandic word for "birch". It has an earthy, woody taste with a slightly sweeter finish than the 36% ABV Birkir, but both are intriguing. Either one would make a unique souvenir to take home the next time you travel Iceland.

  BONUS

Celebrate Bjórdagur, Iceland's "Beer Day"

  After nearly 75 years of prohibition, it's time to celebrate. Every March 1st is Iceland's "Beer Day" and it is best celebrated in the capital city of Reykjavik by doing a Rúntur -- the Icelandic word for "pub crawl".

During this time of year the sunset is after midnight and sunrise just before 3am, but because of the lingering glow that exists even after sunset, it never truly gets dark. As such, the "night" is perfect for bar-hopping and celebrating the holiday with some new Icelandic friends. Did I meantion that bars are open until 4am?

Want more unique things to do in Iceland?

The ultimate Iceland off the beaten path travel guide

  flickr // chrisgold considerable_vomit mmepassepartout borkazoid vannortwick

The very mention of Monaco evokes images of glamorous ladies in evening wear escorted by dashing gentlemen to the tables at one of the many casinos in this small country. Monaco is also known for its Formula One Grand Prix, besides being a popular tax haven for the rich and famous, as well as the rich and not so famous. Glitz, glamour, and the spectacular landscape are all reasons to add the country to your itinerary planner. Here are some not-to-be-missed destinations in this tiny nation that is part of the French Riviera.

Roll the Dice at Monte Carlo Casino and Opera House

Monte Carlo Casino and Opera House
Monte Carlo Casino, Monaco by Paul Wilkinson

A venue for special gala dinners, the Casino and Opera House also houses a marble paved atrium. What catches the eye, though, are the magnificent onyx columns that surround the atrium. With a 130-year-old history under its belt, this building was also the venue of two royal gala dinners. The casino is unique given its stained glass windows, allegorical paintings, bronze lamps, and spectacular decorations. The Casino has also been featured in quite a few notable Hollywood movies including the James Bond series and Ocean's Twelve.

Swim With the Fish at the Oceanographic Museum


Oceanographic Museum, Monaco by wami82

Perched on the Rock of Monaco, this museum of marine sciences is a stunning example of Baroque Revival architecture which by itself is sufficient to ensure it a place on your Monaco travel planner. The museum which towers over the cliff face makes for a picturesque setting. It took 11 years to construct this building which is now home to various several thousand sea creatures including sharks and turtles. The Oceanographic Institute devoted to the study of oceans and their inhabitants are also housed here.

Get a Taste of the Royal Life at Palais du Prince

Palais du Prince, Monaco
Palais du Prince, Monaco by healinglight

The building of the Palace dates back to the 13th century and has its origins as a fortress, but has since been turned into a luxurious palace. There is a gallery with 15th-century frescoes that will leave you awe-struck. The gilded décor of the ‘Blue Room’, the 17th century Palatine Chapel, and the Main Courtyard with its spectacular Carrara marble double staircase make it a ‘must-see’ addition to your Monaco trip planner. Don’t forget to check out the Changing of the Guards ceremony that takes place at about noon each day.

Commune with Nature at the Jardin Exotique de Monaco

Jardin exotique de Monaco
Jardin exotique de Monaco by Sylvain Leprovost

Situated on a steep cliff overlooking the Mediterranean Ocean, this garden is home to varied species of plants from Africa, Arabia, and Latin America. There are at least 7,000 types of succulents which thrive in the great climate the region enjoys. Stalagmites and stalactites are found in the Observatory cave situated on the premises. You can further enrich your knowledge of the pre-historic era and early civilisation with a visit to the Anthropology Museum situated within the property.

Hop on a Catamaran for a Spin around Monaco Harbour

Monaco Harbor
Catamaran rides, Monaco by Dennis Jarvis

The harbour at this princely state is always filled with moored luxury yachts from across the world. It is a great place for a stroll and you can find plenty of places to grab a bite to eat as you watch the spectacular yachts pull out or weigh anchor. Catamaran rides are available for a closer look at the coastline. If you are lucky you might be able to catch a glimpse of the rich and famous arriving to attend one of the many galas or races that take place in Monaco Harbour.

The small size of the country makes it easy to get around and see it all without having to travel too much. Don’t forget to take a close look at the narrow city streets where Formula One drivers race down in May each year!

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